During infancy and toddlerhood, it is we, the parents, who initially teach our children the laws of the land. It begins with the basic rules such as, don’t hit, don’t lie and don’t steal the other kids’ toys, but as they get older, the rules get more complicated.
Children learn early on that there are consequences for wrong actions. If you refuse to share, you may have a toy taken away, or if you don’t listen, you may have a "time out". These kind of repercusions set a foundation that will be instilled within them for the rest of their lives as they are introduced to society’s standards and rules, both written and unwritten.
Many children think it is the parents who make up the rules of how to behave with decorum. What they don’t always understand is that we too are following a set of laws that have been established early on in our society by The Constitution. Teaching children about the US Government can be a complex task, since there are many factors to consider, most of which are complicated for a young mind to understand. By turning this learning experience into a fun venture, they can not only learn about the laws, but experience how they are created and enforced.
Visiting a branch of your local government can be a thrilling experience for a child, even a younger one, since even preschoolers know about the president and the role he plays in our country. If you live near your capital city, a tour of the capital building or sitting in on a senate meeting gives children a feel for the magnitude of how important our laws really are. Witnessing a courtroom trial is also a great way for children to see and understand how the laws are enforced and as we get older, the consequences for breaking them become more severe. With very few exceptions, most trials are open to the public. It’s a fascinating experience for a child to watch the courtroom dramatics take place right before their eyes. This helps them better understand the judicial system, which can be a difficult structure for a child to comprehend, and an adult as well.
After your visit, explore a child friendly website that helps explain in simple terms, how the laws of our country were made. Growing up, many of us learned through the catchy lyrics of the Schoolhouse Rock videos, which can be found today on YouTube. Ask your child if they think the laws are fair and if there are any other laws they would include in the constitution. Take them with you to the poles on voting day. Let them see how we, the people, play an active role in assuring that our country is a safe and pleasant place to live, and that some day, they too will do the same.
Set up a mock courtroom trial with your children and their friends. Have the defendant be accused of a childhood crime, such as sneaking a cookie. Assign every participant a role; judge, attorneys, jurors, defendant, etc.. Have the children go through the process of hearing the testimony of the accused and come up with their own conclusions as to whether he is guilty or innocent, and discuss how they came up with their verdict.