10 Tips for Raising Politically-Savvy Kids

By Denise Yearn

Election year presents the perfect opportunity to teach children about political affairs and influence the next generation of voters. Even young children can cultivate an interest in politics, if parents include them in conversations and engage them everyday activities. Why not start a grassroots effort to foster political awareness in your children? Here are 10 tips to help.

Start simple
Introduce concepts that can be built upon over time. Discuss what responsibility is and what they may be learning in history class. Talk about leaders and authority figures in your home and community. Show your child pictures of those in the political spotlight and discuss what form of leadership he/she holds or is campaigning for.

Reason with relevance
   Talk about how government affects your child’s life right now through everyday things—regulations on items they use or money needed for places they frequent such as parks and libraries.

Challenge to change
Show your child he has the ability to affect change. For example, identify a neighborhood problem, such as a littered park, and talk about what he can do to bring improvement. Encourage him to write a letter to a local, state and national politician about the issue of concern. Children usually receive a letter in return, particularly from local and state officials, and this will encourage them to continue their efforts.

Reach for resources
Use juvenile literature such as biographies and historical and fiction works as a springboard for discussions and to hone their understanding of governmental affairs (see sidebar list). Kid-friendly political and civic-oriented websites, such as www.cnn.com/studentnews, have information and activities to teach children about government and current affairs.

News you can use
Watch the news and political debates, and read the newspaper aloud then discuss it together. Explain political cartoons and encourage your child to create his own cartoons based on issues important to him.

Value volunteering
Participate in community family volunteer opportunities throughout the year and during campaign time. Parents and children can help with neighborhood mailings, drop off literature, distribute buttons or put up campaign signs.

Encourage early election encounters
Encourage your child to run for school or class office. This will give him a jump start on leadership roles and is a tangible way to teach him about the campaigning process. Suggest school and extra-curricular groups hold mini debates to introduce political concepts.

Design day trips
Take trips to state and national historical and governmental sites. If possible, make prior arrangements to meet with representatives. Have your child make a list of questions to ask officials before leaving home.

Model and mentor
Let your child see you reading the newspaper, watching the news, being active in civic volunteering and voting. Take him with you to vote and familiarize him with voting processes. Unspoken modeling has a lasting effect.

Be consistent
Studies show that parents who regularly discuss political issues with their kids have a better chance of raising politically minded children.

Hands-On Election Activity
Best-One-Wins Ballot Box
Cover a shoebox and lid with white paper and secure with tape. Use construction paper and star stencils to trace over and cut out various sized stars. Glue these to the top and sides of the box and lid. Embellish other parts of the box with markers, stickers and glitter, if desired. Cut a slit in the box lid and place it over the box bottom. Provide slips of paper so everyone who comes into your house can vote for their favorite candidate. On Election Day count the ballots and see who wins!

Political Reads
Following is a list of subject-related juvenile books:
America Votes: How Our President is Elected by Linda Granfield
As If Being 12 3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President! by Donna Gephart
Class President by Johanna Hurwitz
Dork on the Run by Carol Gorman
Duck for President by Doreen Cronin
If I Ran for President by Catherine Stier
Vote for Me: All About the Civics by Kirsten Hall

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