Why I shall be Teaching my Children to Vote by @HayleyEarl & @RobertsNiomi

Using a General Election to share the importance of voting…

In 2010, during the last General Election, I talked a little to my class about what was going on. We had a couple of assemblies about it, and I remember watching the constituency maps during the following day as the results began to come in. When a Hung Parliament became apparent, we talked about what this meant, although to my shame, I didn’t really know enough to inform the children properly. I remember thinking I had missed an enormous learning opportunity. So this time around, I’m making the most of it.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Hayley Earl and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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I am ashamed to admit that I have been fairly ignorant when it comes to politics. I’m getting better: I’ve watched lots of the debates this year and listened to the news a lot more than in the past. For most (but sadly not all) of my voting years, I’ve cast my vote, but it hasn’t been fully informed. I still don’t know enough, I don’t think, but I am trying. Politics was never something we discussed at school, even in the later secondary years, which I suppose didn’t really help my ignorance. So, I’m determined to help to make a generation who does care about what happens in our country.

Image via GenerationNation (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Image via GenerationNation (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Last half term, I planned a unit of work for this week, where the children will be finding out a little about how the election works, creating their own political parties, manifestos and speeches and then holding a proper election. I used a lot of the resources from the Parliament UK website, adapting their Election Toolkit resources to suit my children. I have to say, even back then, I was excited. Tonight, I sat down to remind myself of the activities for tomorrow: researching elections, forming the political parties and beginning to think of pledges for the manifestos. Out of curiosity, I had a quick trawl of the internet and found another treasure trove of resources. How on earth I’m going to get through everything tomorrow is beyond me: I’m hoping to discuss the manifestos of all the main parties, found in child speak on the Twinkl website, before getting the children to debate the policies. I’ve got a tonne of printing to do before school as what was a little sideline has turned into a big display (more Twinkl resources!). On Thursday, we will be holding an election: the party leaders will be making their speeches to the class at the start of the day to inform the electorate, and then they will be making their mark on the ballot papers. A team of counters will be counting and verify the votes before our class MP is revealed. Next week, we’ll be doing lots of statistics work around the (real) election results and possible coalition government combinations (although if the results are interesting enough, maybe the class election too!), and our geographical map work will be based around the changes in constituency maps (although I’ve yet to plan this, for obvious reasons!!!). This General Election could well turn out to be unlike any other, and I want my children to understand why.

I want the next two weeks to be fun, but to hammer home a serious message. My children are in year 4, so there will only be one more General Election after this before they get to vote. If we, as teachers, can begin to instil an interest and enthusiasm for politics and how it affects their lives, then perhaps they will want to take an interest when the time comes for them to make their mark.

The Conclusion:

After 3 days of election fever in my year group, phase 1 of our work on the General Election is now complete.

To begin with, the children seemed a little overawed with the whole concept of how the election worked. However, once we introduced the manifestos, they really began to take notice. They began to realise how our votes affect the lives of them and their families. Once we had discussed what terms like “minimum wage” and “national deficit” meant, they began to ask questions of the manifestos – where would the money come from to pay off the national deficit? How could one party aim to pay it all off in 5 years when another didn’t give a timescale? Why wasn’t education mentioned by all parties?

The discussions it sparked were amazing. I was really proud to see groups of children crowding around my classroom window, where I had stuck the manifestos, during their break time, and discussing the pros and cons of each. Even children from other year groups joined in. The children all took part in an online vote: I made it clear to them that their vote would be respected, regardless of which party they voted for, as long as they could justify their opinion.

To my surprise, every child managed to do this, each one giving a very good reason for their vote. Interestingly, all of the 5 eligible parties were represented by the children, although Labour and the Conservatives received more votes than the others. When I asked the children if their parents were planning to vote: 4 put their hands up. I then asked the children if they thought it was important to vote. The same 4 said it was. We then talked about all of the areas of their lives were affected by politics and politicians… and their views quickly changed.

Even though we talked about the right to privacy about political views, I heard almost all of the children approach their parents at the end of the day and ask who they would vote for. The next day, every child said they had gone home and talked to their parents about what they had learned – almost unheard of with many of them.

In addition to learning about the real election, we also formed our own political parties. This part of the week was an enormous success. I was hugely impressed with the maturity that every child in the class displayed: they worked democratically, choosing party names, electing party leaders and deciding on manifestos. This was perhaps the biggest success of the week, as they managed to put aside their own views for “the good of the party”. The election itself was amazing: the children took on their roles with gusto, whether they were a Polling Station Manager, Counter, Party Leader or Registrar. They listened attentively to the Leaders’ closing speeches and cast their votes according to policy rather than popularity. One class had a majority win, but the other formed a coalition, which was an amazing talking point.

So much has been learned this week: factually, socially and personally. As the week began, I was excited but also worried that the concepts would be too difficult for many of the children to deal with. However, every single child, without exception, rose to the challenge. I am sure this experience will remain with them for years to come and maybe persuade them to have a voice when they turn 18. Hopefully, their excitement may have had some effect on their parents: they may well be able to explain to them the importance of the vote. Several of them stood outside the classroom this week reading the manifestos at the end of the day. If we have managed to convince even one of them to go down to the polling booth today, then all of our efforts have been worthwhile.

Meanwhile…This additional text has been provided by Niomi Roberts …

I agree with Hayley, in the fact that it is important for children to have a good understanding of the political concepts and strategies surrounding an election.

The children are aware of the news and also their parents discussing who they think will win the votes, and more often than not, the children are involved in their discussions.

I was never allowed the privilege of a class vote when I was at primary school, and feel it is important for children, now, to have choices and the freedom to make informed decisions.

My class voted for conservatives! We will soon know if the rest of the UK have made similar choices?!

This is what it looked like…

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