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 in everyday activities. Why not start a grassroots effort to foster political awareness in your children? Here are 10 tips to help.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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. 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.
5. 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 her own cartoons based on issues important to her.
6. 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.
7. 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 extracurricular groups hold mini debates to introduce political concepts.
8. 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.
9. Model and mentor. Let your child see you reading the newspaper, watching the news, being active in civic volunteering and voting. Take her with you to vote and familiarize her with voting processes. Unspoken modeling has a lasting effect.
10. Be consistent. Studies show that parents who regularly discuss political issues with their kids have a better chance of raising politically minded children.