A lesson in civic engagement

May 19, 2014 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Voters across the state will journey to the polls Tuesday, May 20, to decide on school budgets, capital projects and Board of Education candidates, among other propositions on local ballots.

It’s an ideal opportunity to teach our children the importance of community and the value of participating in our democracy.

Understanding civic engagement – the ways in which citizens participate in community life to improve conditions for others or help shape the community’s future – is an important lesson for our children. Knowing how to engage in public life is both a right and responsibility.

Your young child may not understand school budgets or know the candidates’ names, but taking him or her with you to fill out your ballot or pull the lever can make a lasting impression.

Help children grow up knowing when and how to make their voice heard in the public arena. The following tips can help you get started:

For parents of children of all ages

  • Explain how the voting process works. Talk about what/whom you’re voting for and why. If you’re not sure yourself, research key issues so you can offer your child an age-appropriate explanation for your choices.
  • If possible, take your children with you to the polls when you vote, or at least let them know you voted.
  • Be aware of decision-making in your community by staying up-to-date on public dialogues and issues, and speak out when you can. Model for your child what civic engagement means.

For parents of children age birth to preschool

  • Read books with your children about past and current important leaders, such as elected officials or activists. There are also fun books about the election process, such as Duck for President by Doreen Cronin or Amelia Bedelia’s First Vote by Herman Parish. Your local librarian can also direct you to helpful resources.
  • Discuss issues – community, state, local, national and global – with other adults, in your children’s presence, modeling for your children the importance of being engaged in public life.

For parents of elementary-aged children

  • Practice “voting” in your family on decisions that affect everyone. It can be something as simple as what weekend activity to do as a family or what to name the new kitten. Be sure you are willing and able to follow through with the results if you put something up for a family vote.
  • Visit public sites in your community with your children, such as parks, libraries, schools, courthouses and public safety offices. Explain in simple terms that people who live and work in the area share in these resources and invest in them through tax dollars.
  • Have conversations with your children about all kinds of issues–from local to global. Ask children how they think and feel about issues. Explain your views and if, how and why those views influence the way you vote or the choices you make.

For parents of middle school students

  • Help children learn basic civics lessons by reinforcing at home what they learn at school. Talk about the principles that form the foundation of our democracy: the three branches of government, how a bill becomes a law and the Bill of Rights.
  • Provide access to books, movies or other types of media that address politics, civic engagement and democracy. Talk about the content, and ask what was interesting or intriguing to them.
  • Encourage children to take part in activities that help them develop skills and understanding related to public dialogue and democracy. Find out if your child’s school has opportunities for debate, mock trial, student council or other outlets.

For parents of high schoolers

  • Help older teens learn how to register to vote and for selective service, as well as about other privileges and responsibilities that go along with being a “legal” adult.
  • If your child will live away from home after graduation, help him/her figure out how to file an absentee ballot.
  • Attend school board and other town meetings to help your teen see local government in action.

Take the time to share the voting process with your children. You will model for them the importance of taking part in elections and provide a valuable lesson in civic engagement.


While some of these resources relate to national/presidential elections, they can still help children understand the voting process.

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