Raising kids who vote

If you ask any group of kids whether they’d like to play soccer or tug-of-war, one thing’s for sure: Every child will want their vote to be counted! We can encourage our kids to become voters and help them learn through play. Check out these ideas to get started.

Between our kids' elementary school years and the time they reach the voting age of 18, they lose steam. Four years ago, only 41 percent of registered 18- to 20-year-olds showed up to vote in the presidential election.

We want our kids to be less intimidated by the word "politics" and to be engaged in the process, says Tammy Gagne, author of the book series A Kid's Guide to the Voting Process (Mitchell Lane, 2012). "A child who understands the importance of the issues won't see a ballot as just another piece of paper."


Kirsetin Morello is a freelance writer, blogger and mom.


Mock ballots

Message: Every vote is equal.

How to play:

  1. Choose a ballot topic: Family night: board game, movie, or read aloud? Next vacation: hitting the beach in Door County, zipping down water slides at the Dells or a staycation in downtown Chicago?
  2. Create ballots with more-or less-options than family members to avoid a tie.
  3. Discuss the pros and cons of each idea. Lobbying is encouraged.
  4. Allow everyone to fill out his or her ballot privately and drop it into the ballot box (any box with a slot cut in the top).
  5. Count the votes.

Parents of younger children may want to split their votes, so that two kids who vote together can win. But with older kids, it's important for everyone to vote their conscience, says Gagne. "The value is in teaching them that you'll vote the way they'd like if they can convince you it's the better choice," she says.


Dictator for a Day

Message: In a democracy, you have the right to vote.

How to play:

  1. Explain the concept of a dictatorship, like North Korea, to your kids.
  2. Choose one person in the family to be Dictator for a Day.
  3. The dictator gets to make all of the important decisions that day. If she wants ice cream, she gets it. If she wants others to get none, it's her call. Bedtime, dinner, snacks, books-the Dictator decides.

It's especially effective to play Dictator for a Day after you've already done the Mock Ballot game. When your kids have experienced both sides-having their say and having no say at all-it's not hard for them to figure out that they're lucky to have a vote and to want to exercise it.


Create a family constitution

Message: It's important to have foundational rules that govern a country or a family.

How to play:

  1. Brainstorm lots of ideas for potential family constitution rules.
  2. Get specific. For example, if one of your laws is Respect Our Home, you could include 'clear your place after meals,' or 'put your clothes in the hamper' as bullet points to make sure everyone understand how to respect your home.
  3. Have everyone sign a copy of your family constitution with a fancy pen. Display your family constitution prominently in your home.

Family fun poster board

Message: Your vote matters.

How to play:

  1. Create a list of ideas for family fun this weekend.
  2. Write everyone's ideas on a poster board.
  3. Allow each family member to cast three votes by placing tally marks by the activities they support. They can divide their tallies however they'd like.
  4. Count 'em up.

This activity is great for visual learners, because they can see the tallies accumulating as each person votes. When you do the winning activities with your kids, it helps them feel the might of their vote.


Take them to the polls

Message: Mom and Dad vote.

How to:

  1. Take your kids to the polls with you. "If you tell your kids that voting is important, but don't make the time to vote when your schedule is busy, they'll quickly realize your heart isn't in it," Gagne says.
  2. Get an "I Voted" sticker for you and your kids.
  3. Bring your camera, suggests Gagne. "Take pictures of your kids beside the sign that says 'Vote Here' so they see the event as one worthy of recording in the memory books."

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