To raise a global, well-informed citizen, try these ideas to engage children big and small in the United States' biggest political event: the presidential election. Politics just got a lot more kid-friendly. By Ava Feuer, REDBOOK.
Take your kids to vote.
If your parents took you to polls with them, it's likely a fond memory that you tap into every time you vote. Share this with your children by voting during before- or after-school hours, and bringing them along. You'll send the message that part of being a good citizen is participating in one's democracy, and they'll get a kick out of pulling the lever. Snap photos of your family at the polls, and share them with other REDBOOK readers on Facebook, on Pinterest using the hashtag #kidsvote, on Twitter @Redbookmag with the hashtag #kidsvote, and on Instagram with the hasthag #kidsvote.
Go to a political event.
We don't blame you for not wanting to face the crowds at an Obama or Romney rally. Make things tamer - and more personal - by attending a speech by a local politician. You'll leave better informed about the issues, and your kids will gain an understanding of what candidates are often asked, and how they comport themselves in high-pressure situations.
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If your kids are bored of hearing adults drone on about the next president of the United States, give them the lowdown via children's book characters just like them. Joanne Bamberger, a political strategist and author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America, recommends See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House (ages 8 and up), Grace for President (ages 5 and up), and Presidential Elections and Other Cool Facts (ages 7 and up).
Arrange a one-on-one
For those with a neighbor, family member, or friend who serves on a local school board or town council, Bamberger suggests setting up a time for your child to speak to that person about their motivation for running for office, and what changes they hope to make in the community.
Make a game out of it
Permission to play computer games? You won't have to ask them twice. Frustrated by Americans' declining civic knowledge, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor founded iCivics, a website that has produced 16 educational video games in the past two years. Children can campaign for an issue of choice in Activate, manage a presidential campaign in Win the White House, and present real Supreme Court cases in Argument Wars.
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Spot the sign
You've likely survived many long car trips by playing the license plate game, attempting to identify ones from every state as you cruise down the highway. Update the challenge by counting how many homes feature lawn signs for each candidate, and whether that changes in the weeks leading up to the election. Try this on several routes, stopping to consider why certain neighborhoods might favor one candidate over the other.
You may not live within spitting distance of the Washington Monument or Lexington and Concord, but every state has a presidential museum, library, or capital city in which most government business takes place. Most have education centers especially geared towards the under-18 set, so research offerings before you set out on a day trip. Ohio residents are especially in luck - the state is the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents.
Hold your own election
In 2010, Allison Stevens, the Washington D.C.-based writer of MomAgenda, held a mock family election in which she and her husband pretended their then three-year-old son was running for president of the family. "It gave him the idea of having to persuade someone to vote for you, and what a platform is," says Stevens. For older kids, try asking them to consider the family's opinions, and make decisions on behalf of the group for the night. In the context of the family, they'll learn some of what being a political requires.
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There's an app for that
The universally beloved Arthur isn't quite ready to run for president, but as the result of winning an essay contest, he's invited to recite his paper, "How I Can Help Make America Great" in front of the commander-in-chief. On the Arthur Meets the President app ($2.99 for iPhone or iPad), kids can follow along as the book is read aloud, color, and work on jigsaw puzzles. As children hear the story, they'll begin to consider what they can do to make America great.
Write a letter to the president
Before your child pens her annual letter to Santa, ask her to compose a message to the president presenting what she wants for the country. She's likely gotten an idea of what issues are important to you, and can speak to things like keeping our troops safe, being able to go to the doctor, and school lunches. You can even submit her finished product online at Whitehouse.gov.
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