"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
October 22, 2012
Mixing Kids and Politics
by Melissa Howell

My nine-year-old son stopped short when he saw what my husband and I were watching on television one evening earlier this month. He watched and listened for a minute, then turned to me.

“Are you sure Mitt Romney is a Mormon?” Connor asked me skeptically.

“Yes, I am sure.”


“Are you sure Barack Obama is not a Mormon?” he asked.

“Yes, I am sure.”

“Then I’m voting for Mitt Romney for president!” he confidently declared.

“No, no, no!” I gently chided him. “We don’t vote for a candidate just because of his or her religion, just like we don’t vote against someone because of his or her religion. We vote for a candidate because we agree with what he or she stands for and we like his or her ideas.”

As if Connor even has a vote. But still.

And because we don’t live in a cave, the children have seen numerous political campaigns and have been asking some questions. So I decided we would have an evening dedicated to learning more about the presidential election process and how campaigning and voting works, and then put into practice a few of the things we learned.

As with any such lessons, these ideas and activities can be adapted for a variety of ages. Even with my own four kiddos, the nine-year-old was really engaged and learned a lot, my seven-year-old was fairly engaged and learned a good amount, my five-year-old was moderately engaged and learned a small amount, and my two-year-old enjoyed the cupcake at the end of the evening.

The Internet has a wealth of information for teaching children about politics and government. I found good, basic information that was easy for them to understand about such topics as the process of becoming a candidate for president, how the electoral college works, why the election is held in November (I had never thought about it, but it pretty much boils down to the end of farming season before really cold weather sets in, as years ago people someone had to travel a distance of a couple of days to cast their ballots.)

We also got to know a little more about each candidate, including their home states, information about their families, and some fun facts about each candidate; my daughter was appalled to learn that President Obama doesn’t care much for sweets, but happy that he loves Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, and my sons loved learning that Mitt Romney has five sons.

We gave a very basic overview of a few of each candidate’s platform issues, and some general overview of the Democratic Party’s approach to government, and the Republican Party’s approach. We found some common ground between the two candidates, including a desire to create more manufacturing in our country; the children applauded this, because they had long ago noticed how many of their toys are stamped with, “Made in China.”

And then it was debate time! After presenting what a debate is and what its purpose is, we all rotated between pairing off into debate duos and serving as moderator. Imagine my surprise when my nine-year-old son, who lives for summer break, was asked, alongside his sister, whether school should move to a year-round schedule, or whether summer break should remain, and he answered, “I think school should be year-round so kids can get smarter and not get lazy over the summer.” And we hadn’t even gotten to the part of our lesson about being able to smooth talk in politics and that they sometimes say what people want to hear! He’s perhaps already a politician in the making.

Our final activity included voting, of course. I created a ballot with six questions and two, three or four options, with boxes we could check by our selected answers. These included: Who should be the next president of the United States? Which is the best flavor? What is the best season? What would you rather climb? Where would you like to take a vacation? What is the best food?

I created a voting booth simply by draping a blanket over an end table and we each took turns crawling inside to mark our ballots and turn them in. I tabulated the results and presented the findings over cupcakes.

As we were discussing the ballot winners from our election, I was pleased the older children were able to articulate reasons for selecting a certain candidate, beyond one’s religious preference or because a candidate is “handsome” (that would be my seven-year-old daughter’s reasoning.)

It was a fun evening to be sure, but more important, I hope my children learned a bit more about the blessings we enjoy from living in a democratic nation, and that we have instilled in them at a young age a sense of civic responsibility to fulfill as they grow.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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