It is never too early to talk with our children about how to be a part of a community – from family to classroom to town to state to country, these different levels of ‘community’ offer opportunities for us all to participate in creating and building the kind of world we want.
Voting in elections is a great way to expose children to formal participation in the governance of our communities. Again, there are different levels of this, from Town Meeting to local, state and national elections. While the language and issues that surround this current election can feel difficult to talk with children about, modeling participation is a way to help children understand that we have agency to act no matter what our politics or beliefs. Here are just a few ideas for making elections and the importance of voting part of your family’s world.
- Discuss voting – what is the purpose, who can do it, and all the different ways it can be done.
- Volunteer – there are many ways to help support our election system, whether monitoring the polls, going door-to-door on behalf of candidates, or even just making donations if you do not have time to spare. Explain to your children what you are doing and why as part of the process.
- Take your child to the polls – learning by experience is a sure-fire way to help your child feel confident about voting when the time comes. Making it a ritual or routine helps children embrace it as a part of life.
- Read books about voting – find an age-appropriate and engaging book for your child, whether it is Amelia Bedelia or Bad Kitty, and incorporate it into a bedtime routine around elections. It can become part of the ritual.
- Experiment with voting – you can find items to vote on at home (dinner choices) or encourage your child’s classroom to develop something in the curriculum that supports learning about voting. Age-appropriate activity ideas abound on the Web.
One of the benefits of making voting part of your family’s life is giving children an opportunity to think about what they value and how that can be reflected in the actions they take and the votes they eventually make. Sharing your opinions and asking them questions can help them develop critical thinking skills and an ability to articulate their beliefs as well as ask questions of their own. You and your child may not agree on everything, and that is ok. Model open dialogue and a willingness to change your mind based on new information. These are some of the most valuable lessons and insights you can offer your child as they develop into an active, engaged citizen.
Chloe Learey is the executive director of Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development in Brattleboro. She serves on the Building Bright Futures State Advisory Council, a governor-appointed body that advises the Administration and Legislature on early childhood care, health and education systems. The Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce recently named her Entrepreneur of the Year.