Let’s face it, learning about government and politics can sometimes be a yawn-worthy prospect. However, with this year's especially contentious presidential race, it can be tempting to stay out of politics entirely.
Still, it's important to educate our kids about the process! Learning about elections, our country’s political process, and past presidents can be fun and engaging, regardless of the candidates.
It’s important that our children appreciate our unique system of government, one that is the envy of many other countries. Election year is the perfect time to start! Here are a few ideas that I hope may spark your own family’s interest.
As we’re bombarded with political ads, campaign speeches, and mud-slinging from both political parties during this election year, it’s easy to forget that presidents are just regular people, too. Do you know the answers to the following?
Some presidential trivia
1. Which U.S. president was so large that he got stuck in the White House bathtub?
2. You may know who was the tallest president (Abraham Lincoln, at 6’ 4”), but who was the smallest?
3. How many presidents were assassinated?
4. Do you know which president was the first to attend a baseball game?
5. Who was the only bachelor president?
6. Which president was the first to appear on TV?
(answers at the end of this post)
I love picture books. They are great for distilling difficult information (Electoral College, anyone?) into understandable terms, and you can learn a surprising amount from their simple format. Older kids and adults can also join in family reading time and learn a thing or two!
Some of our favorites for learning about the U.S. voting process and the beginnings of our country:
Duck for President by Doreen Cronin
Vote! by Eileen Christelow
A More Perfect Union by Betsy and Giulio Maestro
Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz
The U.S. Constitution and You by Syl Sobel
So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George
Hold a mock election
This can be a lot of fun, especially if you join with other families or a co-op. Have student candidates “run for office.” They can decide on their platform, design a campaign slogan, give speeches, run a town hall meeting, and build a voting booth out of a cardboard box!
Do an election unit study
Study elections and presidents with all of your students and learn together! During the last election, I used the month of October with my two students still at home (both in high school) to review the election process. A quick Google search will bring up oodles of printables and activities for your students.
Some ideas for older kids:
Compare the candidates. Have students research the issues that are important to them, and where each candidate stands. Younger students can create charts; older students can write comparison/contrast essays.
Learn about our country’s political process from primaries to the Electoral College to the popular vote.
Review the three branches of government and clarify the role of each.
On election day, after you’ve voted (of course), give each student a blank outline map of the United States to color or mark each state’s results as they come in (reviewing a little U.S. geography along the way!).
Study past presidents. As you see from the questions above, the presidents were an interesting bunch! Each child can choose a past president or two to research and report on to the rest of the family. It just may spark their interest to learn more about the others, and you'll be surprised how creative they can get! The rest of the family will probably learn something new, as well.
Volunteer for the campaign of your candidate. We’ve known families who’ve volunteered to work on campaigns, and the whole family agrees it was life changing. The kids themselves became experts on their candidate’s platform! (How great is it to live in a country where we can do this?)
Play election games. What a painless way to learn! And guess what--there's an app for that! Take a look at the flashcard-type game for iPhones and iPads called USA Presidents. Older kids may enjoy the online game President Forever. Board game lovers may want to check out Hail to the Chief.
Above all, have fun learning together! Who knows? You may just have a future president on your hands!
Answers for questions at the beginning of the post: (source, National Geographic)
1. William Howard Taft, who tipped the scales from 300-340 lbs.
2. James Madison was 5 feet, 4 inches tall, and weighed less than 100 pounds.
3. Four: Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy.
4. Benjamin Harrison.
5. James Buchanan.
6. Franklin D. Roosevelt
Please note that I have not reviewed or used every aspect of the games or websites noted, so their listing is not a complete endorsement, but rather for informational purposes.