The election is around the corner, and if you are on the fence about whether or not to discuss the election with your elementary students, I'm here to give you a gentle nudge forward. Talking about the elections can be intimidating, especially during a time of political polarization, but we shouldn't shy away from this discussion.
Kids are not too young to participate in our democracy
I get that it's easy to justify skipping over the topic of voting and elections by saying that kids are too young to vote anyway, so it's ok if we wait to discuss. But the reality is that everyone can participate in our democracy.
Here are some things that kids can do:
They can talk to their parents and friends about the importance of voting.
They can share their knowledge about voting with others.
They can write letters and advocate for change.
They can participate in a cause.
A great book for discussing what it means to be a citizen is What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers. This book provides ways that our students can get involved. "A citizen is not what you are, a citizen is what you do."
Simulations are a proven practice of civic learning
If you aren't really sure where to begin when it comes to teaching about voting and elections, holding an election simulation is a highly effective way for our students to understand democratic processes and procedures. With a mock election, not only are our students able to engage in the voting process, but this civic learning activity provides critical thinking, opportunity to practice communication skills, and more. If you'd rather not reinvent the wheel, you can grab all of the election materials you'll need HERE.
Present different voices and experiences through picture books
One way to open a discussion and share different experiences is through picture books. There are several fantastic picture books that cover the history of voting in the United States, what it means to vote, and the importance of voting. Check out this list of 12 picture books for teaching voting and elections.
Tools for interrupting racism
Whether or not we are discussing voting, there may be times during teaching when a student says something racist or offensive that catches us off-guard. Instead of saying nothing, we have the responsibility of speaking up. If you aren't sure what to say, this resource from the Oregon Center for Educational Equity is really helpful. Print this sheet and keep it handy. Read through it and choose one or two statements or questions that sound natural for you.
I've found that when parents are included in this learning process, I've received less push-back. Plus, this is actually really beneficial for our students. Families provide a proximal zone of learning. Including parents may lead to further discussion at home which can actually lead to more civic-growth.
Discussing voting and elections isn't just for high school students. For additional teaching materials, resources, and tips check out the links below: