Talking with Young Kids About Elections, Democracy and Justice for All

Now and always, it’s critical to support children as they make sense of what it means to live in a democracy, be members of a community and use their voices for good.

At-Home Learning is an early childhood education resource (for ages 2-8) providing families, educators and community partners with at-home learning activities, guides, and expert advice.

As election day quickly approaches, many children are listening to the grown-ups in their lives discuss their views on democracy, justice and what it means to create an equitable future for everyone. This year has also brought to the forefront the intersecting structures and systems of oppression that infiltrate the fabric of American society. Whether discussing the lack of leadership that led to many lives lost during a global pandemic or the exposure of police brutality against Black people, it’s critical to have courageous conversations with kids about the importance of choosing leaders who will fight for the rights of all people.

An oval sticker with an American flag and the words "I Voted"
The “I voted” sticker is commonly given to voters across the U.S. after they cast their ballots. | Flickr/GPA Photo Archive/Creative Commons/Public Domain

We’ve all heard family members mutter the way too common phrase, “let’s keep politics out of it,” despite the non-negotiable fact that life is political. Politics influence every aspect of living a safe and healthy life. From affordable housing to healthcare and food sovereignty, the folks we elect to power make decisions that affect our futures and the futures of the children in our lives. This quote from writer Robert Jones, Jr. speaks to the importance of thinking about collective well-being when we turn in our ballots, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

We can support the children in our lives as they make sense of what it means to function as a democracy, and how we, as individual members of a community, can use our voices and votes to amplify what’s true and equitable for all people.

Focus on Collective Well-Being

Three young girls sit on a tree facing away from the camera as they raise their hands together to the sky. | iStock
To teach children to do what’s right, we need to show them how each person can make a difference in the lives of others.

If we want our kids to disrupt systems of oppression, we must show them what it means to function as a collective instead of focusing only on their needs and wants as individuals. This also means reflecting on our own households and classrooms and thinking about unbalanced power dynamics between children and grown-ups. Are we valuing kids’ opinions and empowering them to use their voices to speak up and out? Check out these books to teach kids that their part matters and no one is too young to stand up for what’s true:

  • Come with Me” by Holly M. McGhee. This is one of my 4-year-old daughter’s favorite books at the moment. When the news is flooded with hatred and fear, a girl learns that even small actions can make the world a better place, like connecting with your community and recognizing peoples’ voices and actions.
  • The Little Book of Little Activists” by Penguin Young Readers. We’ve been reading this book since my little one was still crawling. The photographs captivate the littlest learners and — along with quotes – illustrate topics like equality, diversity and feminism. This book also supports kids in understanding what it means to fight for democracy.
  • A is for Activist” by Innosanto Nagara. This book is a must-have for all parents raising kids to disrupt injustices. From environmental justice to civil and LGBTQIA+ rights, the concepts illustrated in “A is for Activist” can be reviewed year after year as kids begin to grasp the concepts at deeper levels.
  • What Can a Citizen Do?” by Dave Eggers. This simple children’s book answers questions like “what in the world can a citizen do?” and “who can a citizen be?” with actionable steps and colorful cut-paper illustrations.

Let Daniel Tiger and other PBS KIDS Favorites Help Kids Learn About Voting

Explore what voting looks like by watching “How Grownups Vote” from “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and this short video from “Sesame Street” featuring Steve Carrell that helps kids learn what it means to vote.

Also, learn about how to get the courage to take civic action and speak out for a cause you care about with Francine from “Arthur.” As you watch, ask children to reflect on the following questions:

  • Where are the polling locations where we live? Are they easy or hard to get to?
  • Do you think it’s easier for some people to get to polling locations? Why or why not?
  • Do you think people should have Election Day off?
  • Why is it important to vote?
  • Why does it matter who we vote for?
  • What are some ways families make decisions together (e.g. what to eat for dinner, what to do on a day off, bedtime routines)?
  • Why is it important that we value and listen to all voices?

Learn About Kid Activists

Empower kids to go out and change the world by introducing them to these kids and teens who are already miles ahead of the rest of us. Parents can also watch KCET’s “Earth Focus” special on youth activism to meet some of the courageous youth activists standing up for us across the world.

Here are some resources, meant to be explored alongside children, to spark conversation:

  • Read “Our Future: How Kids Are Taking Action” by Janet Wilson. This book introduces kids to young people who are making a difference in their communities and around the world. One such leader is Autumn Peltier, the First Nations teenager fighting to protect Canada’s water. She comes from the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory.
  • Learn about Marley Dias. At just 10 years old, Marley Dias launched the international #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign to collect and donate children’s books that feature Black girls as the lead character. Watch this video and check out her book “Marley Dias Gets it Done: And So Can You” with the children in your life.
  • Introduce kids to Little Miss Flint. Mari Copeny, aka Little Miss Flint, is an activist, philanthropist, and change-maker in the fight to help communities across the nation deal with toxic water. Visit her website and watch this video to learn more.

More Resources to Explore

Related Articles from PBS SoCal

A woman (April Brown) in glasses smiles.

April Brown (M.Ed.) is a curriculum developer and education writer currently living in Putney, Vermont, with her family. She has a decade of teaching and educational leadership experience in both mainstream public education and alternative education in the United States and internationally. She is passionate about exploring how to disrupt structures that perpetuate systems of oppression and address unbalanced power dynamics in home and schools so learning empowering for all children.