Civics for Preschool thru Middle School
For more information on teaching citizenship to children:
Check out the HSLDA Homeschool Heartbeat radio broadcast archives for topics related to civics studies for younger (and older) students, including:
And visit www.ParentalRights.org to learn more about how a constitutional amendment is proposed and passed.
Constitutional Literacy DVD series—In these 25 episodes, about 30 minutes each, Michael Farris explains in understandable fashion the constitutional history and legal theory essential to an understanding of American government.
By Vicki Bentley
“You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it.” —John Quincy Adams1
Civics is the branch of political science that deals with duties and rights of citizenship; academically, it often includes government studies, so students can learn how our political and economic systems are supposed to work and what their rights and responsibilities are as citizens.
Some of you live in states whose home education statutes specifically require studies of civics and/or government and you wonder what resources you could use; others may simply be looking for a starting point to educate your children (or possibly yourselves) in the basics of state, local, and federal government. In his article, “Teaching Government Right,” Dr. Arthur Robinson comments, “The last and best hope for the long-term preservation of American freedom and the remarkable legacy of the constitutional republic created by our founding fathers is in the education of young Americans to think and learn for themselves the truth about government as it ought to be.”
Inge Cannon of EdPlus.com reminds us that the prophet Isaiah described the three-branch structure of government long before Christ was born: “For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us” Isaiah 33:22 (KJV). (Read Inge’s article about studying academic subjects from a biblical worldview.) The Bible was the standard for civil law from the Mayflower Compact through the constitutions of all 50 states.
Maybe you had—as I did—a marginal education in civics and government; I don’t recall ever being exposed to any original documents, or more than a cursory introduction to how our government’s political or economic systems should function. So where do you begin?
For primary students, it is usually most effective to introduce government in the context of early American history, using biographies, autobiographies, and original documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, examining these documents in a context of biblical principles or foundational references. As your students understand the colonists’ grievances and their struggle to obtain liberty, they can more rationally observe the current operations of our governmental system.
By reading and discussing the Declaration of Independence first, students can gain an understanding of why the founding fathers chose to risk their lives by defying the king and army of Great Britain. In For You They Signed, Marilyn Boyer chronicles the lives and character of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and offers a year’s worth of family devotional character studies; the companion Family Activity Guide includes coloring pages to include even young ones in this family study.
If you have several children, you may wish to cover as much of civics in a multi-level approach as possible, teaching to the level of your oldest student and modifying assignments for the others; they will get off the “mental bus” at their own “mental bus stop.”
I Love America, Volumes 1 and 2, written and illustrated by Julianne S. Kimber, is a hands-on curriculum for ages 4–7 and is suitable for home or group/co-op use.
The Learning Parent site features lots of biographies and other governmental studies, including Noah Webster’s Advice to the Young, and Moral Catechism and Take Your Hat Off When the Flag Goes By a child’s musical introduction to the Constitution, geared for ages 3–8.
Amanda Bennett’s government unit study is divided into upper and lower levels beginning at about grade 4, but could be modified for a younger student.
The Teaching Home e-newsletter offers several online issues packed with resources, links, and teaching tips—their archived Constitution Week edition is an informational start.
The Land of Fair Play (ChristianLibertyPress.com), designed for middle school and up, was just updated in 2008. Although it is designed for 8th grade and above, it could be used in a read-aloud-and-discuss setting for upper elementary, depending on the student’s ability/interest.
The KONOS Unit Study Guide, Volume II (green book) has an entire unit on the character trait of wisdom, and two of the four sub-units are on government and presidents/electoral process-with more than six pages of suggested resource titles selected for K–8th grades. A few of the most highly recommended include The Story of the Power of Congress by R. Conrad Stern, The Constitution by Warren Coleman, and American Freedom and the Bill of Rights by William Wise.
By middle school, you might consider an introduction to The Federalist Papers (originally titled The Federalist) a series of essays-turned-newspaper editorials by Hamilton, Jay, and Madison that remain to this day a primary source of interpretation of our constitution.
The Library of Congress website offers lesson plans and themed activities designed specifically for younger students, utilizing primary documents.
The books in the Uncle Eric series by Richard Maybury are written from a fictional uncle to his inquisitive nephew and include titles such as:
Alpha Omega’s The U.S. Government supplemental history resource book gives your children a close-up look at the inner workings of our government in action, including the Constitution, the justice system, the Congress, the elective process, military, and more. They also offer a Switched-On Schoolhouse computer-based study on state government and history for each state.
Some state organizations offer resources relevant to their own state’s government and history.
In an interview on teaching citizenship to children, constitutional lawyer Michael Farris, HSLDA chairman and general counsel, suggests, “Take your children on field trips to government offices so that they can see first-hand what functions each level of government performs.
Visit court trials at different levels. Watch your city council in operation. Visit your state legislature. And if possible, watch Congress in action. The practical lessons your children will receive from such excursions will far outweigh any textbook instruction—especially if you follow it up with thoughtful discussion.
The more our children know about their government, the more they will be able to change the way our government operates, to make it more efficient, and to hold their representatives responsible for their actions.”
(This article was adapted from the Early Years e-newsletter, September 2009.)