Kids Rule the White House!
Learning about the government is a key part of every student’s education. Unfortunately, many government courses are relegated to history class and other subjects where teaching federal facts can be a challenge. But in today’s informed world it is more important than ever to educate kids on how their government works and what they can do to be a part of it. Try these tips to help your government lessons make an impact, whether at home or in the classroom!
Government at the Roots
- Start with Democracy: What is democracy? Why and how is the United States democratic? What is the difference between a republic and a democracy? These key questions help set the foundation for further instruction on government. Define a democracy and show how it makes the current government structure, especially voting, necessary.
- Separate the Branches Clearly: Federal government lessons work well when you can separate the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of government. For younger kids, teach how the branches differ. Older students are ready to learn how they interrelate and balance each other. Following the course of a single law from inception to legal precedent may be valuable.
- Spotlight Presidents: Presidents are great focal points for government lessons. They come with memorable names and stories. They show how the American government has progressed throughout history. It should come as no surprise that the presidents serves as an ideal bridge toward more complex lessons on federal legislation.
- Make a Chart: Charts are often vital when teaching children about the interconnections between government branches. Help your kids to make a chart themselves that shows the separate parts of government. Many different charts are possible, depending on your level of detail. Online charts like How to Become President of the United States are also available.
- Names and Faces: Teachers can start by identifying important roles in local government and working up to the federal level. Who are the state Representatives and Senators? As part of Congress, what do they do? By connecting real, current faces with government responsibilities, teachers can cement ideas more easily.
- What’s in a Vote?: Extract the voting process and examine it from beginning to end. This is a useful way to move up through state governments and the electoral college to the highest levels of government. Again, charts and pictures are especially useful for these topics.
- The Birth of a Law: Few students know how laws are made – the subject is rarely tackled in movies, games, or books. Laws begin as a bill that is created by Senators and then reviewed by a Standing Committee. Eventually, a successful revised bill is tackled by the entire Senate, then the House of Representatives, then the President. Follow the process or have kids create bills of their own and try to get them passed in a class government.
- Write Letters: Consider writing letters as a class to a Senator, federal leaders (even the President or First Lady) or a specific department. Pick a concern or cause and support it with these letters. Unemployment, education, environmental protection, poverty, and discrimination are all common topics, but students may be able to create more original ideas, too. Find important questions to ask and wait for a response – many civic authorities are used to writing back to classes. You could also take a collection of individual artwork or letters from each student.
- Giving Testimony: Not all students will be able to give testimony in front of a legislative body. But if your class or school is on the forefront of a key current issue, you may be able to arrange testimony for a local session…or watch student testimony from another district.
- Campaign Posters and Stickers: PBS Kids has a government section that includes Presidential trading cards and the ability to view and create a variety of sticks and campaign posters. The caveat is specificity: These stickers and poster projects are designed to talk about real issues and political candidates, which makes bias impossible to avoid. However, the President for a Day section avoids these issues and helps teach more about the role of the President in politics.
- Live Interviews and Webinars: Contact state leaders and request meetings with the class. You have nothing to lose, and politicians are often willing to spare the time, especially when it comes to webinar and remote meeting technology. This strategy works well if you have a group of older students and set discussion points with a clear time limit.
- Hand Puppets!: A paper bag and art supplies can be used to create characters for the different roles in government, includes clears, the sergeant at arms, the speaker of the house, and many other positions. Role playing can then enact a day in the life of the Congress.
- Student Government for a Week: Older students will get more enjoyment out of creating a mini-government for themselves, holding sessions and making bills into approved legislation through advocacy and voting practices.
With a little work any student can become involved in the U.S. government in a tangible way. Learning and participating has never been easier thanks to modern technology and information. Use whatever resources you can to encourage further learning and political development in your kids!
Current Events for Kids
- DOGO News This current event website is made for kids and tends to feature science stories, interesting facts, and other light material from around the world.
- Time For Kids: This news site is designed for kids and teachers, and has heavier current events topics that cover news, legislation, new literature, and other informative pieces.
- Kids.gov: Current Events: This short collection of links provides information on the government, census data, and PBS Newshour for politically-oriented news.
- Ben’s Guide to the U.S. Government: This site collects kid-friendly information on all levels of the government. Many resources include games, activities, and ideas for in-class projects.
- Kids in the House: For Teachers: This list is excellent lesson-planning material, filled with instructions and documents on make learning about the government fun with activities and projects.
- Congress for Kids: With online quizzes and interactive study guides, this site is the perfect resource for a teacher to combine online learning with government education.
- College Scholarships for Student Government: This list of scholarships are excellent for high school students who have led an active role in student governments and with to continue in the political realm.
- Scholarships: Federal Scholarships: This list covers the scholarships and grants offered by the federal government, what you need to apply and what to expect from individual programs like Pell grants.
- FEEA: The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund helps the kids of federal employees with scholarship contests that can supply money for continued education