Catherine Stier is a San Antonio-based, award-winning author of children’s books including If I Were President, If I Ran For President, and Today On Election Day. She visits schools, libraries and other venues with her lively “If I Were President” Author Visit interactive program. Read on for Catherine’s suggestions of how to talk about the presidential election this fall.
Signs. Bumper stickers. TV commercials. Children may be naturally curious about the sights and sounds of the presidential election season. And often, the places youngsters frequent–libraries, community centers and even their schools–may serve as early voting sites or polling places on Election Day. All this activity may lead our young future voters to wonder–what is going on?
As the author of three election/presidential themed books published by Albert Whitman & Company, I have noted how the election season hoopla, as well as our annual observation of Presidents’ Day, may pique youngsters’ curiosity about the POTUS and the whole electoral process. These goings-on may lead to all kinds of great questions (a really good thing!). Children may wonder:
What is the job of the president?
Can a president do ANYTHING he or she wants?
Where does the president live?
Will the new president be president forever?
Just how does someone get to be president?
Can I be president someday?
Parents and teachers can make the most of the teachable moments that arise during the next few months to address such questions and support children’s growing understanding of our country’s electoral process. The actions of candidates and reporting that kids see on the media may open up opportunities to discuss really important ideas about leadership, working for the good of a diverse body of people, and communicating ideas effectively through speeches, interviews, and debates.
Of course, kids might not always quite grasp the facts at first. One of my favorite stories about a child’s electoral-related misunderstanding concerns a kindergartner who, following a certain historical Election Day, repeatedly heard the term “hanging Chad.” Her own realm of experience led her to imagine that the fuss was about a boy showing off his acrobatic skills on the playground!
LOOK TO BOOKS
I believe books are a great way to begin exploring the complicated presidential election process, and to start building the foundation of knowledge that may help kids become informed and engaged citizens later in life. In my own trio of presidential/election picture books–If I Were President, If I Ran For President, and Today On Election Day–I hope to illuminate the responsibilities of serving in the highest office in the land, and impart important information about the election process in a fun, informative and kid-friendly way.
I also hope these books, with engaging illustrations by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, Lynne Avril, and David Leonard, inspire some children to imagine serving one day as mayor, governor, senator, or even President of the United States.
But books are just the start. Here are other kid-friendly presidential and election-themed activities to try out this election season.
ACTIVITIES: BEFORE ELECTION DAY
If I Were President
Young children may not understand what a president is or does. Take time to discuss how the president has the power to shape the laws of the country, is in charge of the armed forces, and addresses the American people during times of celebration as well as tragedy. You might also point out the perks of the position–such as how the President lives in a famous mansion, and may be invited to throw out the first pitch of the baseball season! Then invite your child to finish the sentence “If I Were President…” by writing and illustrating on a sheet of paper his or her own ideas on how to be the best ever Commander in Chief (a ready-made “If I Were President…” sheet is available for printing out at the activities page at www.catherinestier.com).
Virtual White House Tour
Give your child a peek at one of the most famous addresses in the world: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Explain that this is where the president lives, and then embark on a virtual tour of the White House at the official White House website, www.whitehouse.gov. The current site offers a reminder that this is really “The People’s House” for all citizens of our country. It presents a look inside the famous mansion as well as link to an interactive tour with close-up peeks at White House treasures as part of the Google Arts Project at the White House.
Election Year Scavenger Hunt
Educator Leigh Courtney, Ph.D., who has created curriculum guides for children’s books (including my own), offers this pre-election activity idea: One of the ways that voters find out information about the candidates and their ideas is through newspapers and magazines. Go on a scavenger hunt through a newspaper to find examples of news articles, photographs, editorials, and editorial cartoons about the different candidates running for office. Make a scrapbook of your findings and include a description about the main points of information that you discovered about each candidate through the newspaper. For more ideas, see the curriculum guides for If I Were President and Today On Election Day.
Vote for Me Campaign Buttons
Explain how presidential candidates run campaigns with workers and volunteers who believe in them and want their candidate to be the next president. Discuss how candidates’ names and faces may appear on signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts, and campaign buttons. Point out examples when you see them on walks around the neighborhood or while running errands.
Encourage your child to pretend he or she is running for President of the United States or another office, and invite your child to create a campaign button. Cute, eye-catching buttons may be fashioned with a few basic materials–a bit of poster board, a cupcake paper, glue, and markers or stickers. Simply cut out for your child a poster board circle about 2½ inches around. Slightly flatten the cupcake liner and glue the circle in the middle (this will create a frilly border around the button). Your child can decorate the poster board circle with stickers, markers, and perhaps add a motto (Bailey is the Best!) or even a small photo. Add double-stick tape on back so your child can wear it on a t-shirt or sweater. For inspiration, check out the campaign buttons at the Duke University Presidential Memorabilia Collection.
Letter to a Voter: Me!
Ask your child to calculate how many years until he or she is 18 years old and can vote. Then ask your child to imagine that he or she could vote. What issues are important to your future voter? Invite your child to write a letter to a voter who has the power to shape the world–his or her 18-year-old self! The letter might begin “Dear Me, I am writing to you because I am not old enough to vote yet, but you can.” In the letter, your child can share hopes and concerns about the community, country and world, and remind a future self to exercise the right to make a difference by learning about issues and candidates, and registering to vote. Tuck the letter away to share on your child’s 18th birthday–or just before his or her first election as a registered voter
ACTIVITIES: ON ELECTION DAY
Vote Today Signs
Invite your child to promote voting on Election Day by creating colorful (and perhaps persuasive) “Vote Today” signs. There are lots of possibilities for decorating a sign: paints, markers, glitter, and stickers. Post it on your front door as a bold reminder to passersby of the importance of this day.
Future Voter Badge
If possible, bring you child to the polling place for a glimpse of all that goes on. In preparation, invite your child to create a “Future Voter” badge to wear. This may be as simple as a peel-off nametag sticker, decorated by your child with markers and stickers and, of course, the words FUTURE VOTER.
By showing your enthusiasm for the democratic process and Election Day, you may instill in your children or students a recognition and appreciation of this most important freedom–our right to choose our leaders by voting.