Tuesday is election day, of course, and we’ll probably all be heading out to the polls with children in tow, to stand in long lines with whiny kids and try not to be jealous of all the other moms whose kids are in school and who get to stand in line all by their own selves.
But wait! This is actually a fabulous opportunity to teach our kids about government.
Here are a few ideas.
- Let our children feel the excitement. The whole nation is buzzing with anticipation—yard signs, bumper stickers, endless news coverage. My son is really into the election due to his co-op government class, so he’s always on the lookout for bumper stickers. We can point those out and ask them who they think will win.
- Answer their questions. Lack of questions is rarely a problem at our house. Friday mornings I usually go on an early morning run to McDonald’s before we head off to co-op, and this week I let my eight-year-old son come with me against my better judgment, only after he promised to be very quiet because Mommy just woke up and she really wanted some quiet alone time.
“Promise?” I asked him.
“Oh, yes! I’ll be super quiet!”
We got in the car. I turned on the radio. It was a piece about Romney giving a campaign speech. Approximately three seconds in…
I tried to explain in one sentence. Three second pause.
“What’s health insurance?”
I tried to explain briefly.
I turned the radio back up. Three second pause.
I sighed, gave up, and turned the radio off. We had a nice fifteen-minute discussion about health insurance and government regulation.How do we help the poor and weak like Jesus commanded, and what is government’s role and what is personal responsibility?Not really what I was hoping for on that drive, but I realized it was that teachable moment. That’s when my son was listening.This is real life. This isn’t government in a textbook—it’s real, messy, interesting and our kids want to understand.My six-year-old daughter is asking much more basic questions, but I still try to take her questions seriously and help her understand the vocabulary she can at this age.
- Lay out the bait. If your kids don’t ask such copious questions, here’s one way to get them to ask more (but be careful what you wish for).
Just use some word in a sentence, like they already know what it is. Mine almost always take the bait.
I’ll say to my six-year-old daughter, “We need to get in the car to go to the polling place.” She’ll put on her shoes, mulling this over in her head for a while, then within a minute usually asks, “What’s a polling place?” (See some of the vocabulary in my top graphic for ideas on words to explain.)
- Color a map. I printed out this CNN map this weekend and we discussed it. Actually, I had my son look at it while my husband and I tried to guess the swing states at dinner (my husband won), and then which of them had the most electoral votes (he won again). My whole point was to have fun, let the kids see us discussing the election, and understand that this is important. They did actually learn something though.
I printed out this plain map for the kids to color in as we watch the election results.Both of those maps help explain the number of electoral votes in each state.I’m planning to make popcorn and let them watch the election results for a while, though we might have to go to bed before it’s all over, so we will probably have to finish in the morning.
- Keep the right attitude. They learn more from what we say than what we do.
- Pray – God is in control of the whole thing. He guides leader’s hearts as he guides a river. He is sovereign. We can pray for our nation, our leaders, wisdom and grace.
- Serve others – we can go to the long lines at the polling place looking for ways to serve and be a blessing. I’ll probably pack a backpack with books, flag coloring page, and snacks just in case. I’ll try to remind the kids in the car and pray with them about how to act—being quiet and thoughtful of others, kind and respectful. I’ll try to encourage them to hold doors, pick up things people might drop, smile and answer grown-ups nicely and politely. Not that that will all happen, but we’ll do our best.
- Be thankful. I will try my best to be careful not to grumble, but remind my kids what a privilege it is to vote and how thankful we are to live in a free country. When the winner is declared, even if it’s not my choice, I can rest knowing God is in control and I can pray for that man.
- Celebrate afterwards. I saw a sign that our McDonald’s is giving out free coffee and pie on election day. Woohoo! In 2008 Starbucks gave out free coffee. There’s bound to be something fun going on in your neck of the woods. After you all survive voting, you can sit around and have some good old apple pie (and for us gluten-free people, we can have some yummy apples) and talk about America.
These are the moments our children are learning from our lives. These are the real issues. And it’s so much more interesting to learn about our government this way than to just read about it.
Remember, if your children were in school they wouldn’t be with you on Tuesday. They wouldn’t be seeing this with their own eyes. (But if your kids are in school and you’re reading this, you could always go after school is out.)
What a privilege!
Tina at Being Made New has a review and giveaway of my book this week – you can enter to win (and give it away as a Christmas gift if you’ve already read it!). Enter the Giveaway >