Teaching Young Children About Elections
As the Presidential elections approached, a few years ago (while I was teaching), I wanted to teach my first graders about the election process, but explaining the electoral college to 6 and 7 years olds didnʼt seem appropriate. So I went a different route. I decided to have them experience the process right there in our classroom.
I began by asking my students what they knew about how the President is elected. We talked about what they knew, what they thought and were able to do away with some misconceptions as well. I then asked them to go home that evening and ask their parents what they knew about the process.
The next day, when the children arrived they found two posters hanging in the front of the classroom. They were posters for the 2 candidates who were running for President of our school.
As a class, we discussed each candidate and what they believed in. We talked about how each candidateʼs ideas have pros and cons. For example, Worktimeʼs proposal that students sit quietly while working is good for some students who need quiet to think and concentrate while others disagreed because they learn better when they can talk and share with others.
We also discussed how neither candidate is perfect, but one candidate (or the other) is more likely a better “fit.” We talked about how often times when voting in a real election, one votes for someone with whom you share many, but not all of the same ideas as yourself.
I then gave the children a chance to stand up before the class, name which candidate they would like to vote for and to give at least one reason why. As you can imagine, Riley Recess was pretty popular with the group, but Watilda Worktime did get some support as well. That afternoon before dismissal, I gave the students copies of the candidatesʼ posters to take home. I asked that they share the posters with their parents, discuss the candidates and decide who they would like to vote for in the class election the following day and why. That afternoon after my students were dismissed, I set up a polling booth in the back of the classroom. I decorated a shoe box with red, white and blue and hung curtains to create a privacy for the voter. The next morning, when the students arrived, they saw the polling place set up in the back of the classroom. I took them on a “tour” of the polling place and explained why there were curtains hanging and what the ballot box was for.
I showed the class a ballot and instructed them how to fill it out.This was also a great way for me to see who knew their full name! Then it was time to vote. Each student had a chance to go into the voting booth, fill out a ballot and cast their vote.
While, individual students were voting, the rest of the class was working on a writing activity about their candidate of choice.
After everyone cast their ballot, we gathered as a group to count the votes. This was the perfect time to add some math into the activity. I wrote “Recess Riley” and “Watilda Worktime” in two columns on the white board. I chose two students to be the recorders. As I read off a vote, the students put a tally mark in the appropriate column. Then, we counted the tallies and determined the winner and who would be the next President of our school. It was (no surprise) Recess Riley by quite a margin.
Finally, I had my students think about what they would change or keep the same about our school if they were elected president. I asked them to come up with 3 things that they would want their schoolmates to “have.” Then they each created their own election poster using their own name and their 3 ideas.
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