I spent Election Day afternoon handing out kids’ ballots and I Voted stickers to the kids at my polling place. It was pretty quiet, but the kids who did cast ballots in the Kids Voting Minneapolis mock election seemed so proud to be voting just like their parents that I couldn’t help but be glad I was there.
According to Kids Voting Minneapolis, about 50% of young people grow up in non-voting households like I did. I didn’t vote at all until I was in my late twenties, and, as someone who is new to voting, I can tell you that it is intimidating to vote for the first time. That is exactly why I wanted to volunteer with Kids Voting. The goal of the organization is to de-mystify the process for kids in an effort to foster an engaged electorate when they grow up. I believe in this wholeheartedly.
It is important to me that my daughter knows that we are a voting household. We pay attention to politics, and we participate in elections. She is growing up in a household in which politics are frequently discussed and debated. Even so, I realized this year that she had never accompanied us to the polling place. We’d always voted while she was at school or otherwise occupied as a matter of convenience. That changed this year. All three of us cast ballots together this year, and I hope that this is a new tradition will continue for a long time.
I also took the opportunity to share more about the election process with my six-year-old with the book Vote! by Eileen Christelow, which I was delighted to learn was actually inspired by Minnesota’s high voter turnout and early voter education! It is a fun picture book that follows a small town mayoral race from the dog’s eye view. It covers a lot of information, and it would be perfect for a second or third grade classroom. For fourth and fifth grade classrooms, try America Votes by Linda Granfield, which even mentions the Kids Voting organization along with the note that “Statistics show that the Kids Voting program actually increases parent voter turnout by nearly five percent.”
Increasing voter turnout? Getting to see the pride of participation? Encouraging a new generation of civic involvement? These are all great reasons to make volunteering with Kids Voting Minneapolis an Election Day tradition as well.
This past Saturday morning, I participated in a discussion about how best to support early childhood development as part of a Citizen Conference at the Science Museum of Minnesota. There were parents, educators, and many other interested people in attendance, and we had a great discussion. My group was especially lively as we bounced off the discussion questions about public policy related to families bringing in a wide array of related experience. We had a parent educator, an early intervention specialist, a teacher, and others. We were of generally similar opinions, and we were able to get right into our ideas for change.
My group was particularly passionate about duplicating programs and policies that have had proven success. We liked the idea of evidence behind our decisions. We also wanted to reach more parents with parent education in creative ways. We talked about wraparound services at schools and parent education programs at churches or community centers to make it convenient for families to participate.
As a bit of a tangent, I think that this conference was a great example of reaching out to parents in a way that is convenient. For one, it was on a Saturday. I have had to pass on so many parent oriented events because they were scheduled on weekdays (obviously geared to stay-at-home parents, which I am not) or early evenings (I have a long commute. I don’t get home in time to make a 4 or 5 o’clock event). Also, conference attendees could request museum admission for their families for the day. Chad and Ladybug were more than happy to explore the museum (for free!) while I did my thing at the conference. It was win-win.
Back to the discussion, it all seemed to come back to civic engagement. We talked about how people don’t always understand the connection between their vote and their families, and that we need to work to make sure that Minnesota public policy supports families. This means contacting our legislators to let them know that we do not want cuts to early childhood education. This means reaching out to families in our communities. Let’s keep the conversation open. Kudos to the Science Museum for opening the conversation. Now it’s up to us.
My suggestions: Read Kids First by David Kirp (I blogged about it here) and Nurtureshock by Po Bronson (I blogged about it here). They are great books to set a foundation for some of the issues involved. They will definitely keep the conversation rolling.
Find out more about the efforts to create strong early childhood education policy in Minnesota from Ready 4 K.
I vote for kids. I’ve seen the bumper stickers. I’ve even wanted to sport one (though I am car-free), but I’ve also wondered what exactly it meant. Then an ARC of David L. Kirp’s Kids First came across my desk. I could not resist reading it. And, I must admit, I could not resist being caught up in its vision. Here is the kids first agenda as laid out by Kirp (who, by the way, is a professor at UC Berkeley):
- Give new parents strong support.
- Provide high-quality early education.
- Link schools and communities to improve what both offer children.
- Provide mentors to youngsters who need a stable, caring adult in their lives.
- Give kids a nest egg that helps pay for college or kick-start a career.
Kirp points out so many success stories from Head Start to Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I’d like to point out a a success story here in the Twin Cities. Bright Water Montessori School is the only nationally accredited preschool in North Minneapolis, and the first on the northside to recieve a 4-star rating from ParentAware. Bright Water is committed to North Minneapolis–to promoting peace in the, often very unpeaceful, neighborhood. My daughter attended Bright Water’s preschool program for a year, and we were thrilled with the education she received. I was continually impressed with the passion and commitment from the staff and the other parents. They are doing great things there, and I am pleased that my family was able to be part of it.
Learn more about this great school, and what it is doing for North Minneapolis, in this video:
“Excellent education doesn’t just happen in the suburbs or in South Minneapolis. It can happen anywhere.” –Ann Luce