Citizenship ideas for young children: Voting someone else in charge

Elections and voting are something you can try out with young children.

Although young children may not be able to vote, they can still learn about their government, their community and how to improve it, leadership, decision-making and service to help them understand the world around them. These skills are not only useful in the future, but can help them in the present.

Americans select many of their political leaders by voting. When we vote, we are selecting another person to make decisions for us. Only rarely, as in the case of a ballot initiative, do we get to vote directly on the issues. Often in family, school or club situations, you may bring an issue up for a vote, whether formally or informally, such as what movie to watch, what board game to play or what to have for dinner.

It might be more difficult to vote for someone to make decisions for you. You know what you want, but can you trust someone else to vote in your best interest?

Find a time with your family or group when you have flexibility. Try to have the time period be long enough to allow for a meal and some other activities. Explain to the group that you will be voting for a person to be in charge of that time period. You can take this vote by secret ballot. You can even call them president if you want. That person will decide what you eat, whether you work or play, who gets to be involved in what activities and who can participate. As long as everyone is physically and emotionally safe, that person is in charge.

Discuss with children what qualities would make a person a good decision-maker. Here are some questions to get things started:

  • Would an older or younger person do a better job at deciding what to do?
  • Would you pick a different person if they got to decide what the group would do for a whole week? A month? Four years?
  • Are there things a person in charge can’t make another person do? Does anyone have complete control?
  • Do you think another person would make the exact same decisions you do? It that OK? Is there more than one way to spend your time?

Play out the time period and let the person in charge make the decisions. Resist the urge to correct their bad ideas, unless there are safety concerns, and let the leader and everyone else learn from the experience. If the leader didn’t account for time and the group has to wait for their dinner, or doesn’t get anything at all, that can be a valuable learning experience.

After the experience is over, make sure to take time to debrief the experience.

  • Start the debriefing by asking the leader how they did:
    • What would you do differently if you had it to do all over again?
    • Were some of the decisions hard to make?
    • Did you feel really good or really bad about any of the decisions?
  • Ask other members of the group about the experience. Try to counterbalance any negative comments with positive ones, and provide constructive criticism as well.
  • Was it difficult to let someone else make decisions that affected you?
  • How is this similar to and different from when people vote for elected officials and they make decisions about our life?
  • What decisions have elected officials already made that affect your life? Some examples:
    • Whether or not you have to be in a car seat.
    • When you can drive a car.
    • How many days you have to be in school.
    • Whether you can keep tigers in your backyard.

Hopefully, this activity will get kids thinking about what it means to vote, and what qualities to look for when they pick decision-makers in their life.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas. To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, civic engagement, citizenship and global and cultural programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.

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