Today is election day in the United States of America. In our country, the voice of the people rules (well, it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s basically true). In our country, we get to choose our governing officials, and then we get to tell them how we want things done.
Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people. (Mosiah 29:26)
Last night at Family Home Evening, we talked about what it means to vote, and why it is so important. Talking to a kindergartener and a preschooler about political responsibility was fun – and a bit of a challenge.
We talked about the President of the United States of America (who my son knew was Barack Obama – I’m such a proud mama!). Then we talked about how every four years we get to decide who will be the president. V was very much convinced that we should elect Mitt Romney because “Barack Obama has already been the president!” Makes sense, right? Everybody gets a turn! Gotta love 5 year old logic.
Of course, then we talked about how if the president has only been president for four years, we get to decide if he has been doing a good job, and if we want to have him be president for another four years. Then we talked about how to choose a president (or other officer – we stuck with president because senators and state and city governments are probably a little complex for kindergarten/preschool citizens to grasp).
We asked our kids things like, “Should we vote for a president because we like his tie? What about because we like his haircut?” Our kids were pretty smart and knew that we shouldn’t vote for a president just because we like how he/she looks.
Then, how should we choose a president? (the kids didn’t have any quick answers, which was fine, because that’s what the lesson was all about).
To answer my own question, I decided to share with our kids the First Presidency’s statement from 2008 (which they read now around every election time) about participating in the political process.
A lot of the words were too big for our kids to understand, and if you have small children you know that losing a child’s interest is basically a death sentence for FHE, so I had to paraphrase a lot of things in child-friendly terms.
We focused on a few things from the statement:
1.) “the privilege and duty of electing office holders and influencing public policy” – we talked about our responsibility to vote. I also explained “public policy” – how things like funding schools is a public policy. We also talked about fiscal responsibility. We talked about how we give the government money (taxes) and then the government spends the money on things that should benefit us as a society. A lesson in economics was a little beyond our kids, but they understand the basic – that it’s better for the government to spend our money on food for hungry people rather than toys. They also understood that it is good for the government to help other countries, but we can’t spend money that we don’t have.
2.) “Latter-day Saints as citizens are to seek out and then uphold leaders who will act with integrity and are wise, good, and honest.” All we did was read this sentence, and my five year old knew how to choose a president: “Choose a president who is wise, good, and honest!” Smart kid. Because partisanship is a little more complex, rather than talking about political neutrality, we simply talked about how both President Obama and Mitt Romney are good people. It’s a little over simplified, but I think it provides a good basis for political neutrality. And we’ll have this FHE every two years – building blocks. We’re just laying the foundation right now.
3.) “study the issues and candidates carefully and prayerfully” We really focused on the “prayerfully” part. We talked about how my husband and I have been studying the issues and candidates, but that we pray for help to make good decisions in the election. After our mock presidential election, my husband and I talked about a few of the issues with the kids.
4.) “then vote for and actively support those you believe will most nearly carry out your ideas of good government.” The “actively support” part is what I have never been particularly good at. I don’t like campaigning, and I don’t care for party politics. It’s my goal to be more actively supportive in the next few years of the people/persons I support in government. I hope that our Election Day FHEs will become a safe place for our children to learn how to be politically active.
After our discussion, we had a mock election. I made up some simple presidential election ballots. I had a picture of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and next to each picture a little box for the kids to mark. I wish I had made a polling booth because it would have made the experience a little more real.
As our children mature, we will add things to the ballot – propositions, senators, etc. My hope is that by the time our kids are in high school we will be holding FHE mock elections with actual sample ballots from our area.
We talked about how in an election we are not required to share our vote with anyone. We don’t have to tell anybody how we voted, but if we want to tell people how we are going to, or how we did vote, we can.
We tried really hard not to influence our children’s choices on their ballots, but the winner won by a landslide. (okay, it was unanimous)
Our kindergartener had a fun time counting the ballots, and I told them I would take them to the real polls today and let them help me vote.
This morning the first thing they asked me when I woke up was “When are we going to the pool?!” (last night they were saying “pool” and we made sure to clarify – not the pool where you swim, the poll where you vote. Didn’t make a difference, they still say it “pool”
This morning they were telling my friend that they were going to the “pool” today. Her response, “ I hope it’s an indoor pool! It’s too cold to go swimming outside!” My kids stared at her blankly, wondering what on earth swimming has to do with the election! I explained that they meant the polls.
I hope my children aren’t utterly disappointed with their (and my!) first experience voting. (I’ve only ever voted via absentee ballot! So I am excited for my first “real” voting experience!)
How are you teaching your children to be responsible citizens? How do you teach them about the political process and political participation?