Teaching Kids about the US Election

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US election

We hope to raise informed citizens who understand their civic responsibilities at home and are also globally aware. A local election presents a great opportunity to take your kids to vote with you, to drive that point home about civic responsibility while a foreign election allows your kids to take note of the world around them.

The upcoming US election on November 8 is fascinating for many reasons.

I always find US elections enthralling but this one is quite the spectator sport. Issues of American discontent, the implosion of a political party, the likelihood of the election of the first woman president, and the entertainment provided by a completely inane candidate are all enthralling, if not at times nauseating.

Obviously, unless you are an American citizen and were eligible to fill out a ballot, you can’t take your kids through the voting process. But that doesn’t necessarily have to diminish the learning experience.

Introduce the candidates. In all likelihood, your kids know who they are from listening to chatter at school, if they haven’t heard you talking about it at home. Depending on the age of your children, go from there. Compare and contrast Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Lead older kids to news websites such as the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star, or children’s websites such as TIME Magazine, DOGO News, or Scholastic’s Election 2016 section.

You may not think that this is the most kid-friendly election, given the issues, the accusations, and Trump’s behaviour. One of my favourite Op-ed columnists for the New York Times, Frank Bruni, called this a grotesque campaign. Much like you might have shielded your children from the offensive antics of Toronto’s previous mayor, you can choose what you want to censor.

Keeping young kids on children’s news websites will help.

I also like this, How to Become President of the United States. Take a break from discussing some of the issues of the election and focus on the mechanics of the American electoral procedure, in a kid-friendly format.

If your kids know more about Trump than you would prefer, then turn it into a teachable moment. Discuss what we should expect from our candidates, and examine together what you believe should be the necessary qualities and values of our leaders.

Older kids – perhaps grade 7 and up, but maybe your 11 year old is interested – may be ready to discuss election issues. The economy, terrorism, health care, foreign policy, immigration and gun control are on voters’ minds. I’d also throw in voter disenchantment, and the implosion of the Republican party. Young children will focus more on procedure. How do people vote? Who can vote? What does a President do?

While visiting Washington DC, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once famously remarked that “living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered…one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

The United States is one of our biggest and best allies, and is our largest trading partner. More Canadians travel to the US annually, than any other country. We have the longest undefended border in the world. We lap up their cultural content every day on TV, on the radio and in the movie theatre, even if we do spell theatre differently. Kids should learn about current affairs in the US, because Canada is affected. And when we expose our children to the world outside our border, we are helping our kids develop intellectually.

Crank up the popcorn machine. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Have a family party on November 8 and watch history being made.

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About Author

Stacey Cline is an elementary school teacher and educational consultant. She is amazed by what she learns from her students every day. Stacey is passionate about reading, and has amassed a fantastic collection of children’s literature that her family enjoys daily. She lives in Toronto with her husband, two daughters and two cats. As a result, she loves strong espresso and good wine. Stacey can be reached at sclineconsulting@gmail.com.

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