Discussions, activities create politically savvy kids

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Just because they can't vote doesn't mean kids aren't interested in elections. Children have a great deal of curiosity about the presidential candidates, the election process and the role government plays in their lives, according to local educators and parents.

During recent discussions at Royal Manor Elementary School, fifth graders identified the political issues that concerned them. The children said they were worried about issues such as global warming, endangered animals, hunger and homelessness, gas prices and rising food costs, according to social studies teacher Tammie Miller-Wiard.

Parents can play a pivotal role in helping their children better understand the political system and foster a sense of civic duty, said Terri Koozer, an eighth-grade American History teacher at Gahanna Middle School East. "Any time you open dialogue, there's nothing bad that can come of that," Koozer said. The lessons, which don't have to reveal your political persuasions, can help children develop an appreciation for democracy and the freedoms that come with it. The key is choosing age-appropriate activities.

"Parents are kids' most important role models," said Jane McMeekin, education coordinator for Kids Voting Central Ohio, a nonprofit organization that educates kids about elections. When parents place a high value on an activity, children take notice, she added.

Koozer, Miller-Wiard, McMeekin and Istar Schwager, consulting editor of www.HighlightsParents.com provided the following list of kid-friendly election ideas.

Preschool children:

  • Find pictures of American symbols, such as the White House, the American flag or the bald eagle for children to color.
  • Treat Election Day like a holiday. Develop a special menu incorporating red, white and blue foods.
  • Allow children to vote on household issues--which restaurant to visit, what movie to see, etc.
  • Point out people in the neighborhood--police officers, firefighters or garbage collectors--that work for the government.
  • Provide children with an easy description of what the president's job is.

Elementary children:

  • Teach them to identify the candidates by photos.
  • Talk about which qualities make a good leader. Ask children to identify a schoolmate who might make a good captain of the soccer team and follow up with questions about his or her character.
  • Hold elections on a family issue but don't allow everyone to vote. This demonstrates the importance of voting.
  • Explain the elephant and donkey political symbols and offer a brief explanation of the parties.
  • Show children how the government impacts their day-to-day lives by explaining that roads, bridges and schools are built and maintained with government funds. Keep track of how many times in a day they encounter a government service.

Middle school children:

  • Ask them about their feelings toward political ads. Engage them in a discussion about how candidates may exaggerate the truth.
  • Explain how the government collects taxes and uses the money to run schools, libraries, the bus system, and more.
  • Use political cartoons to generate conversations about the elections.
  • Visit the candidates' websites and see where they stand on various issues.
  • Give kids a blank map and allow them to keep track of which states each candidate wins on election day.

High school students:

  • Watch a debate together.
  • Find out whether kids are eligible to work at a polling place.
  • Discuss which issues are important to your family.
  • Ask about which issues concern them.
  • Talk about other forms of government and countries where people don't have the right to vote.

Questions to jump-start discussions:

What would make you not want to vote for a presidential candidate?

If the president were coming here today, what would you like to talk with him about?

What would be the first thing you would do if you were president?

What qualities do you think are important for a president to have?

Take the kids' voting challenge!

Kids Voting Central Ohio encourages area youth to tackle as many items as possible on its Voting Challenge list:

  • Get informed and start talking. Know the way things are so you can influence the way they can be. Listen to others, to what they're saying-and what they're not.
  • Stay informed. Read newspapers and use the Internet to keep up with events in your neighborhood, your nation and your world. Talk about the news with friends and family. Get on mailing lists of organizations that interest you.
  • Take action. Work on behalf of people and issues you believe in. Don't ever think that one person can't make a difference.
  • Register and vote. As soon as you are eligible (17 1/2 if you will be 18 by Election Day) get registered and give registration forms to friends and family. Remember that the deadline to register to vote is usually 30 days before the election.
  • Work at the polls. Be a role model for those around you. If you are 17 years old and a high school senior, contact the county Board of Elections to work at the polls on Election Day.
  • Take a leader to lunch. Work with your teachers to invite elected officials to your school to talk about issues that affect you and your community.
  • Run for office. You are not too young to think about running for school board, council or the state legislature.
  • Most importantly, don't take democracy for granted!
Source: www.kidsvotingoh.org

Melissa Kossler Dutton has worked as a reporter for more than a decade. She's a frequent contributor to a variety of Ohio publications. She lives in Bexley with her husband and two sons.