Discussing voting and the upcoming election with young children
Explain the voting process to your kids and that every vote does matter.
It happens once every four years, not just the Summer Olympics, but the Presidential Election. It is a time when election materials seem to be everywhere. We see advertisements on television, billboards and posts in all types of social media including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We hear about candidates on the radio and during general conversations throughout our day. As adults, we tend to tune into political conversations and even share our own opinions with family, friends, co-workers or people we talk with in everyday life. As political rhetoric is all around for months on end leading up to the election, it is important to remember children are also being inundated with much of the same information, and they will noticeably begin to ask many questions about the election, why we vote and about politics in general.
Leading up to the election
One very common inquiry of children about the Presidential Election is, “How does someone become president and what is voting?” These are rather large questions to answer, but know that you do not have to be able to explain the Electoral College right from the start; however, it is important to be able to talk about who the candidates are and what it means to give your vote.
You may want to describe some of the ways in which candidates reach out to people who could end up voting for them. This may include talking about television and radio advertisements, fliers, posters, billboards, buttons and even phone calls. You may choose to include information on formal debates and local speeches. When describing the process by which candidates get their message out, it is more important to talk to young children about how they choose to reach the people than the messages they are giving.
How exactly does voting take place?
Children hear about voting and the importance of voting, but do they really understand how the process works or what voting really is? Since the Presidential Election is upon us, it is a very good time to share how we cast our vote and what the steps actually look like.
One very good idea is to have a pretend election at home. You can use boxes, sheets or towels to set up voting booths to simulate the privacy of voting. Create a pretend ballot using pictures and names of familiar persons for children to vote for. For instance, you may put a picture of two favorite characters on a pretend ballot with check boxes next to each character for the child to choose from. Be sure to make a selection yourself and include anyone who would like to participate.
Once their selection is made, have them place their ballot into a homemade ballet box. Once everyone is finished, you may pull out the ballots and add them up to see which character wins. This is a very easy way to show children how voting takes place and gives them a good sense of their individual vote having meaning. Ducksters is also a great resource for explaining how the voting process works.
Does voting actually matter?
When talking to children about voting, it is important to explain to them why voting matters and what it means to give your vote. When we vote, we give our voices the chance to be heard on many different concerns within the community in which we live. Our vote helps to choose those who represent us in government and the rules for which they operate by. Voting allows the people to have a say in choosing how money is spent and where the taxes they pay go. Children can be taught the importance of voting by discussing the ways in which voting helps to support government, colleges, local school districts, libraries and even the roads we drive on.
Michigan State University Extension recommends the following activities for teaching children about voting and the election.
- Spend time with children making your own campaign posters, whether for actual candidates or for a pretend election using their imaginations. You may help a child act as a campaign manager for their favorite cartoon character.
- Have a fun debate with children about issues that are important to them. You may debate television time, bedtime, what to have for lunch or what chores should be given to them.
- Use scrap paper, crayons and glue to create buttons for promoting a pretend election. You may use tape to put the buttons on your shirt to proudly campaign for your favorite candidate.
- There are many resources online to download coloring pages about elections and voting. Coloring Book Fun has many different free downloadable pages for kids of all ages.
- Make a voting box using tissue boxes or small containers. Feel free to use stickers, markers, crayons or any other available craft supplies to allow children to create their own ballot box for a pretend election.
Additional resources on voting
- Elections: Everything You Need by Scholastic
- Kids Voting USA
- Helping Kids Understand the Election by PBS Parents
- Elections 101 by PBS Kids
- Educating kids about the elections by CNN