This November’s election is poised to be one of the most turbulent in recent memory. Even if you haven’t explicitly told your youngest children about our current political situation, chances are, they can sense that something is rocking the adult world. Children in preschool and the early grades (and, actually, many adults) have a hard time with ambiguity, so rather than letting them guess at what’s got the adults so riled up, it’s best to have a direct conversation.
Not sure how to start a discussion about the most important election of our lifetimes with a toddler? Don’t worry! You don’t have to: picture books will do the hard work for you. Here’s a list of election themed picture books that you and your child can read together, paired with hands on, play-based activities to help them work through what they’re learning.
These activities won’t just benefit your child, they’ll also benefit you: remember, in times of chaos, even adults need to play!
This rhyming alphabet book lays out basic principles of civic participation, including – but not limited to – voting. The text references everything from the importance of protest to the history of the suffrage movement to the fact that the US is occupied land. The illustrations are gorgeous, and every line could start a conversation.
Activity: Write your own voting alphabet! Ask your child what they have noticed this election. This could include yard signs, posters, ballots, and commercials. Help them make a book or poster by writing down the words they dictate to you and allowing them to do the demonstrations. If there are missing letters, go back to the V is for Voting book for inspiration.
Lately, Lion, the incumbent president of the jungle, seems to care more about his needs than the needs of the creatures he governs. The animals of the jungle decide that enough is enough, and they organize an election. A diverse slate of candidates decide to run for office – the question is, who will win? A charming, hilarious, and beautifully illustrated book that also clearly lays out the campaigning and voting process.
Activity: Play election! Here’s how we do it in my house: my daughter cuts “ballots” out or scrap paper, then lines up her stuffed animals to vote. She also picks three candidates. Each animal votes and, in the end, the winner is declared. (The results don’t always match the ballots – I’m sorry to say that in my house, corruption runs rampant.) Your child may have a different idea of how to play, but whatever they want to do, just go with it. Remember that children process through pretend play, so whenever it’s safe to do so, let them take the lead.
When the kids from Stanton Elementary find out that their school is going to be a polling place, they start to get curious about elections. Together, they do research, and then reach out to their community to make sure everyone has a plan to vote. This book full of rich, diverse characters is a child-friendly introduction to what voting means and why you should vote. It’s also a great guide for parents who want to motivate their family members to exercise their franchise.
Activity: The kids of Stanton Elementary reach out to their loved ones to find out how they’re voting, and you can do the same! Make a photo collage of all the important adults in your life who vote. Then get in touch with them to make sure they have a plan to vote this year. You can send them videos of you and your child talking about the importance of voting, cards your child makes showing the steps it takes to vote, or you can call them up and ask them to tell you about who they are voting for and why. Make sure to listen to your child’s ideas too – they probably have some great ones!
When Grace finds out the US has never had a female president, she is outraged. She declares that she will be the first female president. In response, her teacher suggests holding a schoolwide election, so Grace can practice her campaigning skills. But the winner won’t be declared through the popular vote: each child is assigned a state, such that voting mirrors the electoral college. Grace campaigns hard, but her opponent, Thomas Cobb, is confident that he will win. A book that features diverse characters – Grace is Black – a compelling plot, and the first clear explanation of the electoral college I’ve ever seen.
Activity: Throughout the book, Grace campaigns. Volunteer for a campaign, and get your child involved. In my house we are writing postcards, and my daughter’s job is to stick on the stamps. You could also have your child help put up a yard a sign, make their own yard sign, or make a poster to put in your window. While you work, have a conversation about why your family is supporting these particular candidates, and what you hope they will do for your community.
This rhyming text frankly describes the fight for voting rights in America. While the book is child friendly, it also doesn’t sugar coat the fact that the first iterations of our government didn’t include BIPOC voters, women, or working class people. The book’s chorus, “A right’s not a right until it’s granted to all,” is both inspirational and clear. A wonderful slice of electoral history for even the youngest children.
Activity: How can we help other people vote? Talk to your child about how you can help your friends and neighbors vote. Discuss your voting plan, and ask your child how they think they can help others make a voting plan. Allow your child to draw a plan for these friends and family, if you’re comfortable, mail it to them.
After talking with your child about the election, don’t forget to do the most important thing of all: vote! Make a voting plan, and vote early. Show your child how you fill out your ballot, take them with you to your local drop box (if it’s safe), or ask them to put a stamp on your envelope, or take them with you to vote in person (again, if it’s safe.) Remind them of how hard our ancestors fought for our franchise, and how every time we vote, we honor their struggle. Our children need to wait over a decade to vote, but there’s no reason why their political education can’t start right now.