When kids head back to school this year, there will be a special buzz in the air — the election of the 44th president of the United States.

An election year is the perfect opportunity for parents and teachers to engage kids in meaningful conversations about everything from how we elect our nation’s leaders to what it means to be a good citizen.

However, adults might want to talk to kids about the election but might not be sure where to begin.
Francie Alexander, chief academic officer at Scholastic, suggests that parents start by welcoming children’s curiosity about current events and finding out about their impressions, concerns or fears.

“If your kids show an interest in the election, encourage it,” said Alexander. “Remember that it’s less important to know all the answers than it is to be open to discussion, so spend as much time listening as you do talking,”

Ages and Stages
Parents and caregivers should also consider their child’s age and stage of development:

Young children in grades K-2: Too many details can be confusing, so parents should respond honestly, but with broader strokes. Stress the “big ideas,” like what a president does or talk about certain national symbols like the U.S. flag.

Children in grades 3-5: Parents can take their cues from their children about what to talk about and to what length. This is a good stage to seek out books together about past presidents or other election topics, such as “Otto for President” or “LaRue for Mayor.” Upper elementary school students can comprehend and will often seek out additional facts and background information.

Middle school and high school students: Teens have the intellectual ability to participate in a conversation about current events, but parents shouldn’t feel the need to impose discussion. Again, be open and available. Young adults may be curious about what their parents’ views are in comparison to their own, even if it is to contradict them!

As children feel more comfortable talking about the election and related issues, a good lesson to share with them is that not all people choose to share their views. Another good reminder for kids and adults alike is that good citizens communicate with civility and respect. Parents can be role models and show that people can disagree without being disagreeable.

The Election Online
One way to bridge the conversation between the classroom and the living room is to check out age-appropriate sites like the Scholastic Election 2008 website where kids can find information about the election, stories from the campaign trail written by Scholastic Kid Reporters and fun, interactive challenges.

Available online at www.scholastic.com/election2008, adults also can find election-related book lists, primers on democracy and government, dinner conversation starters and more.

Even though they’re too young to vote in the presidential election, kids can participate by making their voices heard in the famous Scholastic Election Poll. Since 1940, the outcome of the Scholastic Election Poll mirrored the outcome of the general election, in every election but two (in 1948 when students chose Thomas E. Dewey over Harry S. Truman and in 1960 when more students voted for Richard M. Nixon than John F. Kennedy).

In the 2004 election, more than half a million students in first through eighth grades participated in the poll. An even greater turnout is expected this year. Kids can cast their vote at www.scholastic.com/election2008.