I discussed the lopsided electoral map the morning after the Reagan vs. Mondale election with friends as we waited for the doors of our elementary school to open. In high school, I designed my own campaign clothes for a gubernatorial candidate I liked in Virginia. I didn’t live in Virginia. I’ve been Richard Nixon, Ross Perot, a convention delegate, and bipartisanship (yes, really) for Halloween. I spent a semester as a White House intern, volunteered for numerous campaigns, and taught government to high school students. I love this stuff.
As a mom, I make it a priority to teach my kids the importance of being involved with the political process and knowledgeable about issues. I tell them they do not have to share my opinions, but I always want them to stay informed and respectful of other views. You may not own a dress featuring the text of the Declaration of Independence like I do, but with the election season upon us, I want to share some ways you can involve your kids and get them talking.
Find a President Puzzle
One of the earliest ways I talked to my kids about politics involved working on our large puzzle of the presidents. We talked about who was president when I was born, when Grandma was born, and so on. My daughter asked why they were all men. My son asked how many of them were dead. It’s a way to spend time together and introduce children to the concept of the presidency.
Share Some Presidential Trivia
My kids love hearing silly stories about the men who led our country. Fun facts help to humanize our leaders. And kids are more likely to remember their names when a story is attached. Did you know Jimmy Carter was the first president born in a hospital? Or that James Garfield was the first president to talk on a phone? And related to both of those questions, did you know there have been six presidents with the first name of James?
Study an Issue
Does your daughter love to play in the creek and discover the many bugs and small animals that call it home? Help her research what each of the candidates has to say about the environment. See if your congressman has sponsored any bills on the issue. Does your third grader stress out over standardized tests? Encourage him write to your school board member or state representative to share his concerns.
Take Your Kids to Vote!
This is so important. I take my kids with me as often as I can and share with them how sad I am when the school gym is practically empty for local elections when those are at least as important as deciding who will be our president. I talk through the ballot with them. During the ride there or back, we talk about the reality that in some countries women cannot vote or only people of certain races can vote and how we have fought those same struggles here.
The Election Day Map
This is a great chance to pull geography, math, and two primary colors together! I print out maps for the kids, and we get our red and blue markers ready to color in the states as results are confirmed. We also have a dry erase board to keep track of electoral vote totals. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to claim victory. (Each state’s electoral votes = number of people in its Congressional delegation.) And we watch the numbers add up as the evening progresses. Here’s a photo of my daughter’s efforts from four years ago, when she was six years old:
If your kids are in school, they are discussing this year’s election. It’s amazing what my daughter “learns” from friends about the candidates. They also may overhear news stories or campaign ads on the television or see headlines at the grocery store check out. I think it’s important that, as parents, we are part of those conversations. We should help our children navigate all of the conflicting—and sometimes scary—information and let them know that their voice matters.