The First Steps to Understanding American Government
For homeschools, American government instruction starts early with everyday experiences. Do not shy away from teaching young children to love their nation as it helps set their aspirations for the future. Songs can help teach the ideals and principles that our government is based on such as faith, families, hard work and independence. Songs are a great way to start teaching young children. Patriotic songs such as My Country Tis of Thee, The Star Spangled Banner and America, The Beautiful teach children to think about their national identity. The vivid imagery of blue skies, purple mountains, rivers and seas will help children understand the variety and size of the nation.
Point out the rules that give your favorite game its structure. Talk about how rules are like laws in a community and give us structure and order. Try playing a game without any rules and talk about what our communities and families would be like without any rules. When you see a police officer, talk about his job as the enforcer of the laws of our community and how that keeps families safe.
Geography studies teach that the Unites States has 50 states each with its own capital. Don’t forget to point out that each state also has smaller counties and cities with their own capitals, too. Then take your child on a tour of local government buildings.
At your library, you can search for books on American government topics like the Constitution, the legislature, judicial and executive branches, and elections. They have many books at different reading levels that you can share with your young children to reinforce the ideas you have been explaining to them. Of course, with young children repetition is needed and loved.
Vocabulary Ensures Understanding
Make a good dictionary your friend. Let your children see you use it. Try to use and explain words and concepts like capitals, democracy, laws, elect, represent, constitution, and amendments. Don’t be afraid to use big words with your children. They can understand more than they can read. If you accompany the words with phrases that give a simple definition they will pick up on them and begin to use them, too. Some words like taxes can be demonstrated. Having mom and dad “tax” Halloween candy effectively illustrates this idea. Drawing up a family or homeschool constitution would be fun too!
Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance regularly can help introduce some new vocabulary for young children. Discussing words like allegiance, republic, indivisible, liberty and justice will help children begin to understand the unique ideas of American government. Take them with you when you vote. If you still use machines to vote in your area they will understand sayings like “pulling the lever” for a candidate.
TeacherVision has free printable worksheets for kindergarten through 12th grade students. By fifth grade your child should be about ready to start a dedicated study of the branches of government. A good place to start looking for programs is with The National Center For Constitutional Studies. They have books, music, and study guides for all ages. Giving young children a basic understanding of vocabulary, types of governments, and experiences with community institutions will help them relate all that the next level of study can bring. American Government for homeschoolers can be fun and exciting. Look for opportunities to talk about it!