Watch the Polls: Teach Kids to Think Critically About Voting

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October 28, 2014

Next week, on the first Tuesday of November, people all over our nation will head to the polls to vote for various candidates, propositions, and bond measures. Every four years, the election process becomes glamorous, or at least high-profile, as we elect a new president but these mid-term elections can slip by without much notice in the average household. Voter turn-out hovers around 40% of those eligible for these elections. It’s important to model political engagement to our kids as a valued right that many people in the world don’t have. As part of that engagement, conscientious citizens need to know how to wade through all of the double talk to get through to the real issues being discussed.

A few days ago, my son heard a commercial against one of our state propositions. It foretold doom for the entire state if this particular law passed. He asked why anyone would want to say yes to something so bad. We talked about propaganda as a point of view from a particular group. I figured this is my chance to model social responsibility as well as critical thinking. So, when we got home I started this activity to help both my kids understand exactly what they’re hearing or seeing in these political commercials.

Give Then Examples They Can Relate To:

Find a real life scenario that your kids will understand. In our family, we have a swimmer and a soccer player. So, I explained that my son, the soccer player, could propose a new law that said the only allowable after-school activity would be soccer. He could tell us about how valuable it is to build community, play with a team, and get exercise. Kids these days don’t get enough movement and are becoming unhealthy, so they need soccer. Parents would appreciate having all their kids in one activity, so it would cut down on running all over the place and give more family time. If he really wanted to get people’s attention, he might go so far as saying those who do not support Prop Soccer don’t care about kids or the family and just want to lead unhealthy lives.

Naturally, my daughter, the swimmer, would have some arguments with his statements and could cite different personalities and needs when it comes to athletics. She would tell us about the health benefits received from other sports, like swimming. And since he tried to make it sound so terrible to disagree, she’d probably cite all of the injuries possible in soccer from torn ligaments to sunburns that lead to skin cancer, in order to make it sound like those who support soccer don’t care if their kids get hurt.

My kids really jumped in on the brainstorming of what crazy reasons could be listed for each side. We had everything from fashion options to allergies! Having participated in the “household campaigning,” they understood more about the purpose and process of the election season.

Pick a Ballot Measure That Involves Them:

Choosing a topic they already relate to, such as something involving kids or schools, allows them to have background knowledge connected to their own lives. They will automatically be invested in the outcome and might be able to predict some of the arguments set forth by each camp. Then keep your eyes and ears out for campaigning for that proposition or bond. Count the number of signs you spot that say “Yes on XYZ” or ”No on XYZ.” Listen to a commercial for and another one against the measure you’ve chosen.

Ask Questions:

What do they want us to think?

This can be hard for younger kids to identify. You might need to frame it with more specifics. For example, “This commercial says you won’t get very good service if Prop XYZ passes. Why do they think that will happen?”

Who made this commercial or put up this sign? Why would they want/not want Prop XYZ to pass?

“The Hospital Workers Union made this ad. Do they know about this issue? What would happen to them if Prop XYZ passed?” By isolating the group speaking, you begin to demonstrate that, just like in your household proposition, each group will have a unique perspective and will want to defend their version of what should happen.

What do their opponents say?

It’s important to hear both sides of an argument before making a decision.

Have Them Mock Vote:

Allow them to come to a conclusion then talk about it. Even if their logic isn’t perfect, at least they’ve thought through the process and you’ve laid the ground work for more critical thinking in the future.

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