The onslaught of political advertisements and news spots will make for some curious kids, who will be asking parents questions about hot-button issues like Iraq or abortion and trying to find ways to become involved in the electoral process before they’re old enough to mark an actual ballot.
Managing your kids’ interest in seemingly adult topics can be tricky. "Be ready to answer with really good, clear, specific answers and don’t tell them too much," advises Suzanne Freeman, the editor of Scholastic News Online, which offers age-appropriate election coverage for kids. "The first thing is to listen to your kids. They actually hear a lot that you don’t think they hear."
Ask kids what they’re learning in school about the election, suggests Freeman, and build on that by reading or watching the news together and discussing the messages from political advertisements.
Kid-friendly Web sites are another way to make the political process more accessible for children. Scholastic’s election site (scholastic.com/election2008) offers bios of the candidates, stances on seven major issues, games and activities. The site also offers an online poll where kids can cast their own ballots for president, as well as news articles written by kids. "Being able to read a news story from their peers adds interest," Freeman says.
And it’s interesting for the kids who write the stories too, says Michael Geheren, a Scholastic Kid Reporter. The Huntley eighth-grader says he wishes he and his peers would be able to make their votes count.
Michael, who hopes to be a professional journalist someday, says kids are interested in this election, citing the environment as the topic he thinks his peers care the most about right now. He encourages kids to research the issues. "These things that are happening in this election and elections to come are going to affect us in the future," he says. "Kids should know their issues."
One way to help kids get involved is to relate the election to their everyday lives, says Michele Yother, president of Gallopade International, an educational book publisher that launched the youth-friendly election Web site electionsforkids.com in August. The Web site encourages kids to vote on a different topic every week. With issues ranging from their favorite ice cream flavor to which country should host the 2016 Olympics to who would be the best vice presidential candidate, Yother says the key is to understand the voting process.
"I think any time kids are actively involved in learning, that it is definitely more effective than just reading about the process," Yother says. "Let them build a habit of participating in the voting process."
The goal, Yother says, is to teach children they have a voice and, because of that, it’s their right and responsibility to vote. "Parents are wanting to build that understanding in their kids and that pride in voting," Yother says. "Introducing that to them when they’re young is a great thing."