Everyone is probably weary of seeing ads for the presidential candidates and hearing the latest poll results. It seems like it’s been going on for years, and that’s because it has. One election is barely over when campaigning starts for the next election.
We may find the process to be too long, but a presidential election year is a big deal. It’s important for children to know that elections are one of the few opportunities when the average person has a voice and can participate in our government. Whether it’s an election for city, state, or federal officials, every citizen should be as informed as possible and should vote for their candidates of their choice.
Right now, you have children in elementary school, but in a few short years they’ll be learning to drive and wanting to borrow the family car. Happily, the state has created a set of rules designed to keep drivers from dangerous situations. New drivers, in order to drive as safely as possible, are required to learn—and are tested on—the state’s rules before getting their license. You wouldn’t lend them your car if they didn’t know what stop signs or speed limit signs were. Knowing the rules of the road will help keep your children—and your car—from being in an accident.
As a parent, you would do anything to keep your children out of harm’s way. You want them to grow up in an environment where they’re treated fairly, that offers them security, gives them the opportunity to get a good education, and allows them to succeed in a career they love. If only there were a set of rules that would offer equal prospects for leading happy and fulfilling lives to all children.
As it turns out, our founding fathers provided us all with just that; they created a kind of “rules of the road” for our country: the Constitution. Each year, we celebrate Constitution Day on September 17, the anniversary date of its adoption in 1787. Many schools discuss the Constitution with students on Constitution Day.
Learning About the Constitution
In 2015, Arizona became the first state to require that, in order to get a high school diploma or equivalency certificate, students would need to score 60% or higher on a multiple-choice civics test. The questions are taken from the test required for citizenship. Eight states have adopted similar tests.
It’s a great thing that high schoolers are learning about our country, but since the Constitution affects each one of us and is not too challenging to read, there’s no reason why grade school students couldn’t also learn the rules that govern how our country works.
In Illinois, students in 7th grade have to pass a test on the U.S. Constitution, while those in 8th grade have to pass a test on the Illinois State Constitution. Youngsters can’t graduate 8th grade without passing both tests. Incoming out-of-state 8th grade students have to take and pass both tests before beginning high school.
Arizona kids are at least as smart as Illinois kids—even smarter, since we have figured out how to live without snow and sub-zero temperatures—and learning about the constitution is well within the capabilities of Arizona students. And, since they’re going to have to learn about it in high school, why not give them an early start? Since Arizona’s elementary schools aren’t required to teach the Constitution, perhaps parents should take it upon themselves to teach children about this important document.
The Story of the Constitution
During and after the Revolutionary War, which ended in 1783, the Continental Congress served as a temporary government with the Articles of Confederation serving as our first constitution. Unfortunately, the Articles of Confederation was lacking in a number of areas and failed to offer the type of unity among states that the founders had hoped for.
In 1787, the founders called for a Constitutional Convention to revise the Articles of Confederation into a set of rules which provided for a central government, balanced with individual states’ rights. Various ideas were put forward, and eventually a single document was created and ratified by the states in 1788.
In 1791, the founders saw issues that they had not addressed in the Constitution, and they added the first 10 amendments, which are updates or additions to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The process of amending the Constitution made certain that the document would always remain contemporary, and it could be expanded as our new country was expanding. Today, there are 27 amendments. The ability to update the Constitution is why it’s often referred to as a “living document.”
How the Constitution Affects Kids
Kids should understand that the Constitution has an effect on their daily lives. The Constitution guarantees that they can go online, talk on the phone, read books and newspapers, get an education, not be forced to work, and have any religious belief or no religious belief. As they get older, they’ll learn to appreciate the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to privacy and the right to feel secure in their home. In fact, most laws that form the structure of our lives have their roots in the Constitution.
There are countries all around the globe in which citizens have few rights; they can be arrested and jailed at any time for any reason. The Constitution begins with the words, “We the people,” and it’s still the people that determine the fate of our country.
We have the oldest, most successful constitution in the world, but we can only keep it for as long as people take an interest in it. President Harry Truman said that the highest office in a democracy is that of the citizen. That’s a lesson that children should learn at an early age, so they understand that the future of our country is in their hands and the hands of every other citizen.
Teaching the Constitution at Home
It’s likely that none of us are experts on the Constitution, but thanks to the internet, we don’t have to be. There are plenty of websites that provide great information for every age group. Parents can review the following sites and decide how they’d like to start familiarizing their kids about the most important document in our nation’s history.
- Teaching the Constitution – This comprehensive site, created by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, has everything necessary to get children enthused, including videos, timelines, and games. Every article and several amendments are covered.
- The Constitution for Kids, Grades K-3 – Taught in a way that younger students can understand, this site lays down the basics of the Constitution, including links to coloring pages.
- The Constitution for Kids, Grades 4-7 – Gives the basics of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, with links to many other pages with information on the framers, important amendments, and how a bill becomes a law.
- Elementary School Lesson Plan – The History channel has created a PDF with a number of activities that can introduce kids to the Constitution. Because it’s a school lesson plan, some of the activities are for larger groups, but parents can still get some good ideas for fun, Constitution-related activities.
- Constitution Fun Zone – A few activities separated by grade (K-4 and 5-12) that include word finds, crosswords, and treasure hunts.
- Constitution Day Lesson Plan – With various activities for each grade, this site has something for every age. Lots of activities like matching games, grade-specific fun facts, topics for conversation, a Constitution Day rap song, and lots more.
Although it has lasted for over 230 years, the Constitution is a fragile thing. Presidents, congresspersons, Supreme Court justices, and others, constantly try to interpret the Constitution in a way that benefits them. It’s up to the American people to be certain this important document remains a roadmap for our democracy benefitting all citizens, so that it—and our country—have a long and bright future.