Educating children to be knowledgeable and excited about taking part in elections and governing is an important first step toward an informed electorate. The information literacy required to make crucial decisions is an essential element of intellectual freedom, and libraries have an important role to play.
Voters make choices based on information from many sources: print and digital media, family, and friends. The information superhighway from which most people receive the information they need to make good decisions on voting is filled with misinformation and even “fake news” purposely created to deceive. Librarians, trained in how to teach information literacy, are experts on locating trustworthy, unbiased sources.
How do we make these topics fun and interesting for the children we serve?
Helping children to appreciate the importance of participating in the democratic process can involve more than explicit instruction on the workings of our election process. Our efforts can help kids make a connection between the democratic process and their own lives.
Make it personal
To spark an interest in this topic, it’s essential to help children understand that elections affect the lives of all of us.
Encourage kids to talk about the things that matter to them, and help them understand the impact of government on those issues – parks, schools, transportation, the environment, for example.
Ask them to compare government to other forms of authority – parents, teachers, and others.
What sorts of decisions do those people make on behalf of the child, and how much input does the child have in that process?
An engaging book can be the gateway to understanding important concepts relating to elections and civic engagement. Take a look at this annotated list with suggested titles. The Colours of Us blog provides this timely collection of recommended children’s titles relating to voting and elections.
We can help children develop information literacy skills and an understanding of the democratic process by connecting them with digital tools and activities provided by experts.The award-winning i-Civics site provides extensive, kid-friendly information on elections. Their offerings include games, lesson plans, webquests, infographics, and more. National Geographic offers some tips for spotting fake news that could spark discussion, along with fun interactive ways to try out new skills.
The Activities section below includes a link to a Kids Voting USA guide on teaching children about elections. Section 2: I “Study the Candidates and Issues” explores information literacy, helping students probe and question the information they hear.
This idea of “fake news” and how to identify it can be conveyed to children in engaging ways – a sort of “what’s wrong with this picture” approach. As this informative article establishes, skills required to spot fake news apply to evaluating information of any type.
If you’re able to roll information literacy into programming or discussions on voting and elections, you empower children to become more active and informed members of their community. We vote for that!
- Consider holding a mock election –for president or for leadership of a book club or class group. You might adapt these classroom activities from Kids Voting USA.
- Take your inspiration from fun stories like Duck for President (by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin) This activity guide includes a video.
Julia A. Nephew is a Children Services Librarian at Addison Public Library in Addison, Illinois and a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee. Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.