This is an exciting and historical time to be a United States citizen. It appears that in the upcoming election, we will bring a minority into the White House as either Vice President or President for the very first time! Barack Obama, an African American, and his running mate Joe Biden, are running as the democratic party candidates. Republican candidate John McCain has surprised many with his choice of Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, as running mate. What better time could there be to talk to your kids about the democratic process and Presidential elections?
There are some terrific resources available that explain how our government works and how a president is elected to office. You can surf the web and get lots of great information to share with kids of all ages and ability levels. I particularly like the US government site hosted by a cartoon version of Ben Franklin, which is known as “Ben's Guide”. This site has information designed for various grade levels: kindergarten to 2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. There is not specific information on the election process for the youngest age group, but the grade 3-5 stuff is pretty clear and easy to digest. The election process for grade 6-8 is a bit more detailed, though there is not much more offered for high school level kids. PBS has a simple, yet engaging web site for the youngest of our citizens. Kid's can be “President for a Day” and see what their schedule might look like. Check out the, “ PBS Kid's Democracy Project” , and also it's sister site for older kids, “Zoom Out the Vote”. The Zoom site has a plethora of great links, in addition to it's own very solid content.
Dan Gutman is the author of a pair of books titled, “The Kid Who Ran for President”, and “The Kid Who Became President”. These amusing stories follow a twelve year old who is urged by his best friend to run for office. He starts off knowing very little, and having few thoughts on issues, but of course, learns as he goes through the process. Author Martha Searle Halter has designed a companion book to go along with, “The Kid Who Ran for President” which is an outstanding resource for teachers.
This study guide includes discussion questions and activities that expand on the story and go deeper into the Presidential election process. “Presidential Elections and other Cool Facts” is a nice basic guide for kids which is written at about a fourth grade level. Author Syl Sobel J.D. Teams up with Barron's for this publication. This book introduces the electoral college as well as other election related concepts such as third party candidates. It's fun to see who recalls the most titles in the order of succession, and to read about all of the relatives who have held our highest office. The glossary in the back reinforces new vocabulary terms like “caucus” and “electoral votes”.
Finally, I would like to suggest that you take a few minutes each day to talk about what is happening in politics today. Encourage children to ask questions, and consider issues and how government affects their schools, families, and communities, as well as the world at large. What issues are most important to your kids? What happens when one candidate meets some needs, while another meets other, equally important needs? How do you get past slick campaign ads and find out what the candidates are really all about? There are no easy answers, but factual information always puts us in a better place to make informed decisions. Kids can get involved in politics before they can vote, by learning about the process, the people, and current events. If they appear especially motivated, they might enjoy writing letters to the editor or political commentary for their school newspapers.