My understanding of politics as a child was one of simple innocence. I knew my parents always voted, but wasn’t overly aware of who they voted for or why. A winning election day for me was getting to go inside the voting booth with my mom, and getting to pull the lever to open and close the curtain. And if I was really lucky she would let me push down the little red buttons to make her selections for whom she was voting for.
I also remember Election Day and political themed lessons when I was in elementary school. Unlike adult political conversations that often center on impassioned opinions that can quickly turn angry, in elementary school they consisted of pretend elections where you got to cast your ballot for things like your favorite sport or flavor of ice cream. Everyone only got to vote once, although inevitably someone would attempt to raise their hand an additional time and would get a gentle reminder from the teacher that everyone only got to vote once because that is what’s fair. There was no animosity if your favorite won or not, because the fun was seeing how many other people liked the same choice as you, even if your choice didn’t win.
I can distinctly remember myself as a second grader during the 1992 presidential election. My mom, who I can now surmise with my adult perspective was tired of the typical politician jargon, decided to go for a third party choice, Ross Perot. I always wanted to be just like my mom, so when our class had a pretend election, Perot received only two classroom votes, but I was so pleased that one of those votes was mine. It didn’t matter to me that my choice didn’t win, I was just happy that my voice was equally heard and appeared on the bar graph we had created together.
Overall, as a child, being able to “vote” made me feel important. I also always respected the President and other members of the government because I viewed these authority figures as important people and believed they wanted to help others, even if they weren’t always my parents’ preferred choice. This election, as best as I can recall in my 30 years, is probably the most heated I have ever experienced. There are a lot of strong opinions, anger, and fear that I have noticed on people’s minds, on both sides of the aisle. I know it is important to have values and beliefs and to stand strongly in what means the most to you. But something seems different to me this election, something seems lost, that I think can we return to, if we think like children think.
As a Kindergarten teacher for many years, I can tell you, most little kids love the flag, love saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and ultimately love being an American. They know that the right thing to do is to be kind to everyone (even if they sometimes need a reminder, deep down they know this), and they love hearing their voice heard with classroom votes. So maybe, just for a moment, we can all take a break and think about how children perceive politics.
In honor of the 2016 Presidential Election, here are some real life quotes and insights shared by my Kindergartners:
- They have an appreciation for the flag
Teacher: “What’s one thing you notice about the American Flag?”
Kindergartner: “It has red and white stripes because the President loves candy canes.”
Kindergartners truly love the flag and they really love to be in charge of the classroom flag by being the flag holder. They view it as such an honor and when chosen, they stand tall and proud.
Imagine if we all loved the flag the way a kindergartner would.
- They absolutely love to say the Pledge of Allegiance
Teacher: “Who wants to lead us in saying the Pledge of Allegiance this morning?”
Kindergartner: “I pledge of Egypt, to the flag of the United States of America. And to the republic, for which it fans, one vacation, under God, invisible, with libraries and jumping for all.”
Even if they don’t say it correctly, as soon as that pledge starts on the morning announcements dozens of tiny little bodies jump up ready to make their daily statement to our country. Have you ever been to a baseball game, America’s pastime, where adults sit, eat, or talk through the Pledge of Allegiance instead of saying it proudly?
Imagine if we all said the Pledge the way a kindergartner would.
- They can make comparisons between America and their own lives
Teacher: “One of our country’s symbols is the bald eagle. Why do you think that is?”
Kindergartner: “I don’t know, but I can’t wait to show my dad that he is balder than that bird!”
Kids like to feel like a part of something, so knowing that our country has its own symbols and colors is thrilling to them.
Imagine if we related America’s symbols to our own lives the way a Kindergartner would.
- They know which laws would make our country better
Teacher: “If you were the President, what laws would you create?”
Kindergartner: “No more homework, a free puppy for every kid, and ice-cream for dinner every night!”
Imagine if Congress focused on laws the way a Kindergartner would.
- They have advice for “The Father of our Country”
Teacher: “Do you think George Washington should have cut down the cherry tree?” Kindergartner: “If George Washington did not want to get in trouble for chopping down the cherry tree, he shoulda’ just said his little brother did it.”
Kindergartners view the President in high esteem, no matter what. They know he is somebody important and don’t get caught up on much more than that.
Imagine if we respected the President the way a Kindergartner would.
- They are relentless in trying to find out your political affiliation, especially the morning after an election.
Kindergartner: “Who did you vote for?”
Teacher: “Who you vote for is a secret that you keep to yourself. I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you.”
Kindergartner: “Ok, then just tell me if you woke up happy or sad today.”
Imagine if we could ask one another things directly like a Kindergartner would.
- The good news is they are equally relentless in telling you their parents’ political affiliation.
Teacher: “Did anyone see the President on TV last night?
Kindergartner: “Only for a few minutes. My dad kept yelling at the TV, so my mom made him turn it off.”
Imagine if we were blatantly honest, whether good or bad, like a Kindergartner would be.
Ultimately, regardless of whether or not this presidential election turns out the way you hope or not, we can try to respond as a Kindergartner would, thankful that everyone only got to vote once because that is what’s fair and still super proud to be an American.