Monday, November 5, 2018

My Top 3 Tips for Voting with Kids

Disclosure: I received a copy of Voting with a Porpoise for review purposes; all opinions expressed are my own. 

Tomorrow's a big day: Election Day 2018. 

I've taken my responsibility to raise civically engaged children very seriously and while my current state of activism was ignited by our time spent in New Hampshire leading up to the last presidential election, I wasn't always so civically minded. 

The first presidential election I had the opportunity to vote in was while I was in college. I could've voted absentee registered in Ohio, but I abstained as I didn't like any of the candidates. I wrestled with the thought and moved on. I now realize my mistake, steeped in privilege. 

Know better, do better.

Nia voted with me in our '13 local election in Jersey City!
Now as I raise future voters there are 3 key actions that I've found helpful for those of you also looking to civically engage your children:

1) Involve them in your prep work 

Even toddlers can be captivated by politics!
When we lived in New Hampshire from 2014-2016 my family and I had a front row seat to the political process as the candidates made early and frequent visits to our town. I became a pro at packing up the kids, supplies and finding entertainment in line all the while building their stamina (and my patience!) and giving them an-on-the ground perspective of the decision-making process. 

Ultimately,  I learned not to underestimate what my kids can understand: my daughter, only a Kindergartner at the time, was wise enough to ask if we could go see every candidate, and while I appreciated her ability to understand hearing from all sides I also used it as an opportunity to discuss my concern for her safety and why we aren't always able to go to certain events. 

Recently the book Voting with a Porpoise has been very helpful for both my 4 and 8 year olds as we continue our conversations about voting. It is an engaging story about sea creatures having to make a decision as conditions in their habitat are changing cleverly told in a way that makes the point that every vote really matters. 

At the end of the book is a thoughtful discussion guide to help your family navigate the conversation about voting. I was able to tailor the questions to my kids and it was a great mini-prep session before heading to the polls. I especially appreciate that 100% of the book's profits benefit non-partisan voting-related causes such as Rock the Vote,, Turbo Vote and others. 

2) Actually take them to the polls with you...and make it fun

Voting in Maryland '12 after being displaced by Hurricane Sandy
I have really early memories of going with my parents to vote at the local elementary school in our Columbus, Ohio neighborhood. It was important to me to instill these same memories in my children so that by the time they're of age to vote they can pull upon the familiarity of the experience and be encouraged to go.

Early voting this week
Of course the "I voted" stickers only work to an extent, but there are other ways to make it fun for your kids. Consider enlisting them as helpers: from holding the glue stick to seal the envelope to poll workers stepping up to engage my kids in their ballot collection process there are definitely creative ways to bring delight to the experience. 

3) Discuss the results and continue to be involved

Early voting (and mean muggin') in 2016
This might be a bit tough as I learned in the last election when my daughter prompted me on her own for the results the following morning and it resulted in a tearful outburst that made me also break down, but I think it's equally important as the previous two steps. 

Show up beyond the voting booth 
I believe that children can understand that elections have consequences as I've seen my 8 year old witness certain policy changes directly affect members of our community. Proactively discussing the results also encourages my daughter to strive for change and represent what she values to her fellow citizens. I take modeling this for her very seriously and when we either go to rallies, protests and other political events together or before I head out solo I explain to her why I'm going. 

Do you have early memories of voting with your parents? Have you taken your children to vote with you?