Begging forgiveness of my non-American friends for a decidedly American topic.
At last, Election Day is upon us! Hardly an early childhood topic, it’s also so prominent it would be hard for most children to miss it. At our house, Election Day is a special day. The children know that something is afoot and since we’re unsure how long the lines at the poll will actually be, we plan on making a holiday of it. Obviously, partisan politics are not suitable for little people. We want to impart our values, yes, but the often bitter machinations of the campaign process are really Grown-up Business.
What then, can we do with Election Day?
The lives of the presidents, especially the earlier ones, are full of fascinating tales. The Baldwin Project is one of my favorite (free) resources for telling stories, and if you run a search on presidents you can find lots of stories. The Early Life of President Lincoln gives us a peek into the childhood of one of the most famous Americans. And while we know it to be fiction, the story of George Washington and his cherry tree can be found by in prose and in verse.
If you’re more of a picture book storyteller, we’ve enjoyed David Adler’s picture book biographies of the presidents, including A Picture Book of Abraham Lincoln (Picture Book Biography)’>A Picture Book of President Lincoln and A Picture Book of Thomas Jefferson (Picture Book Biographies) (Picture Book Biography)’>A Picture Book of Thomas Jefferson. The D’Auliare books are always nice, and they have one for both Abraham Lincoln (Bicentennial Edition)’>Lincoln and George Washington’>Washington. If I Were President’>If I Were President is silly and fun and Duck for President (New York Times Best Illustrated Books (Awards))’>Duck for President! is just plain goofy.
I have a large collection of crafts for patriotic holidays here on Pinterest. Many are specific to Independence Day, but many could also be adapted for Election Day. You might also want to check out my Presidents’ Day board here. I love these future voter pins.
Bake me a cake.
Have you ever heard of Election Cake? Apparently, New Englanders traditionally really do Election Day up. It’s second only to Thanksgiving. The Puritans weren’t big on celebrating Easter or Christmas, so instead they put all their partying energies into Election Day—balls, religious services and commemorations, parades, and lots of yummy food. Traditional recipes were designed to feed entire communities—think 30 quarts of flour, 10 pounds of butter, 14 pounds of sugar, 3 dozen eggs. We’re probably going to try this Election Cake recipe, but if you Google there are lots of options, many of which involve brandy. But don’t let perfection (or authenticity) be the enemy of the good: any cake you make on Election Day is an Election Day cake!
Take a field trip.
One of my earliest memories is accompanying my mother to the polls. She even let me pull the lever, which I am sure is technically all kinds of illegal. Research has shown that the biggest deciding factor in whether or not a child grows up to be an active voter is not education, race, or income. Rather, it’s whether or not parents voted and placed a high value on the electoral process. Of course, if there’s any chance at all that things could get ugly in your polling place, I would not recommend taking your children. But if you’re expecting things to be smooth sailing, there’s something magical for children to see their mothers and fathers actively taking part in democracy. And in my experience, poll workers love to see (well-behaved) children on Election Day.
Take a vote.
Throughout the day, allow your children to vote on daily choices. Milk or juice? Chicken or beef? Apples or oranges? While too many choices can be overwhelming on a daily basis, just for one day let everyone vote on what you will do.
What is the heart of Election Day?
This is a good question to ask about every holiday you celebrate. To me, the heart of Election Day is the love of our country and of the democratic process. I wish to impart to my children a sense of awe of the electoral process and a sense of responsibility as well. No matter who wins, it’s amazing to me that we live in a country where, every four years, we have a peaceful transfer or peaceful continuation of power. There’s definitely a sense of reverence when we enter the voting booth.
Elections tend to be contentious, presidential elections more so, and this particular election has been one of the ugliest I have ever seen. While it is important to share your political beliefs and standards with your children, it is even more important to share the values of kindness, peacefulness, and love. Be wary of painting the “other side” as the Bad Guy, keeping in mind that if the Bad Guy wins you’ve now created a fear in your child’s life. Likewise, it pays to speak to kindly of those who do not necessarily agree with your political values. Namecalling and hatred will rarely carry you far in this world, and they certainly aren’t traits most of us want our children to pick up. No matter who wins this election, 50% of the country is going to be disappointed, so it’s good to practice peace from the get go.
Remember that it is up to you to hold the space, and as the Space Holder-in-Chief, you set the tone. For many families, tomorrow is going to be a day filled with stress and worry. For others, it will be a day just like any other. I would propose a middle ground: celebrate the day as special, give your child a sense of reverence regarding the democratic process, and, above all, have the overarching theme of the day be one of hope.
Happy Election Day!