Six resources for teaching your kids about the presidential election

Virginia’s primary is on Tuesday. Fill your kids in on why they’re missing school and/or why you keep getting all fired up every time you open Facebook.

Photo by: Theresa Thompson

My son is no stranger to voting. Whenever I vote in an election, he’s usually standing/dancing/hopping/flopping on the floor right behind me. His favorite part is when he gets an “I Voted!” sticker when we leave the polls, even though he didn’t do anything. My favorite part is when I post a picture of us on Instagram, stickers prominently placed, and caption it with “One of us is lying.”

That and the part how my son gets to witness me taking part in our most important civic duty1.

Now that he’s seven, my kid is just starting to understand that I’m not essentially playing with a giant iPad when I cast my vote. He’s starting to get that it’s important, but he’s not totally sure why it’s important yet. And I’m not totally sure how to break it down for him without 1) completely talking over his head and 2) letting my personal political opinions color my explanations.

So I turned to the Internet–because that’s where you go to find concise, unbiased political discourse? Well, turns out, you actually can go there for resources that make our electoral process accessible to kids. Good on you, Tubes and Wires!

Here are six resources that I found especially helpful…

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Helping Kids Understand the Election

As we all know, politics are complicated, often leaving parents at a loss for words when they try to explain its nuances to brains that just recently grokked object permanence. This resource from PBSParents anticipates the questions your kids will probably ask when the topic of the election comes up–like “What does the President do?” and “What do donkeys and elephants have to do with being president?”–and offers age-appropriate responses and tips for keeping even our youngest citizens politically engaged.

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Schoolhouse Rock!

When it doubt, go with a classic. Schoolhouse Rock’s Presidential Minute and Electoral College musical explainers are fantastic introductions to your family’s exploration of the election process.

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BrainPop: Elections

Great for independent screen time or for a little family computer fun, “Elections” section offers videos, games, and quizzes covering the branches of government; the origins of our current political parties; primaries and caucuses; the ins and outs of presidential elections in the US; and more. Heads up: BrainPop does require a subscription, but it’s my experience that many of the local school systems have accounts that can be used for free by students and parents. Your best bet? Check with your school or local librarian.

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Ben’s Guide to the US Government

Ben as in Benjamin Franklin, a dude who knows a thing or two about how stuff works here in these United States. Ok, Ben didn’t actually put this site together, but the Government Publishing Office (GPO) did! Ben’s Guide lays out age-appropriate information on the branches of government, how laws are made, the election process, and more–all broken out into three age groups: Apprentice (ages 4 through 8); Journeyperson (ages 9 to 13); and Master (ages 14 and up). Fun bonus: the site is lousy with links to the historical documents that helped shape our government.

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This is a bare-bones resource but helpful nonetheless, offering a brief overview of the election process (with links if you want to push your kids down an Interwebs rabbit hole). However, the most useful takeaway is the free downloadable poster (complete with a mini-glossary) that literally maps out how one makes it into the White House. Print it out, laminate it, stick it on the fridge, and encourage your kids to embrace their inner political nerdiness.

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Scholastic News: Election 2016
I’m saving the best for last here. My excitement over this masterpiece from the folks at Scholastic is…perhaps unreasonable2. Catch up on campaign news written by kid reporters (!!!); introduce your children to the candidates still in the running (they’ll love/you’ll probably cringe at the “fun facts” included with each bio; track key dates and events leading up to the election; and so (so, so, so) much more. And be sure to bookmark this one: they’ll be adding an electoral college map and running a mock election as we get closer the The Real Deal come November.

  1. Second most important: jury duty. What a fascinating task we are given! 
  2. I mean it. I plan on emailing the link out to every parent and educator I know. It is Scholastic at its best. 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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