The Constitution for Kids: Planting the Seeds of Democracy

Amy Weisberg, M.E.

There has been much talk lately about the Constitution of the United States. The continued success of the musical, Hamilton, gave us all an educational review of our founders and their intentions as they formed a new nation and as reported in the last issue of the Messenger Mountain News by Joel Bellman, in his column, Rude Interruptions.

In the play, What the Constitution Means to Me, Bellman examines the relevance of the Constitution in today’s world. We are given lessons in the Constitution daily, with the events unfolding in the news. Many of the concepts are difficult for children (and some adults) to understand. Children, however, can grasp the beliefs and values that are the building blocks of our country.

The founding principles and ideals have shaped our country and we continue to attempt to uphold these principles and ideals. The ideas came from our founders’ observations of both human nature and their vision of government.

Our government was formed with civic virtues. A new vision of American justice and laws were created for a nation of self-governing people living in a healthy, civil society.

We can introduce our children to these principles in a way they can comprehend and practice in their own lives. We expect children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance beginning in kindergarten, yet they do not study the history of our country until fifth grade. With guidance and language that even young children can comprehend, we can inspire our children to grow into thoughtful, involved citizens.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The Declaration of Independence, written at the beginning of the colonists’ fight for separation from the rule of England, is a document that has inspired other nations to put the liberty of its people at the forefront and to fight for their own rights and freedom.

That first sentence in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, is a concept that children can understand. In fact, many children, in their innocence, already assume this to be the truth. Young children see each other as equal; both boys and girls play together, learn together, and have fun together, willingly accepting each other regardless of gender. This is the nature of childhood, to play, to have fun, and to make learning fun.

We can talk to children about compassion, fairness, and learning to communicate with each other so that everyone’s ideas are heard and discussed and realize that compromises can be reached through respectful discussion. 

These important life skills are what we teach in kindergarten. We teach children to respect adults and each other by listening, following directions, and asking for clarification when they don’t understand. We teach children to tell each other if they don’t like the way they are being treated and to speak up with a strong voice to be heard. We also teach children to respond to their friends, to admit mistakes, to apologize, and ask forgiveness. 

With these skills, our young students are ready to move up to first grade and beyond, gaining new skills along the way. As they mature, they are able to communicate even better and then begin to have discussions about current events and expand their social-emotional learning with feelings of empathy and compassion.

The pursuit of happiness, the strong finish to the often-quoted sentence in the Declaration of Independence, is just that: a right to pursue happiness, not a guarantee of happiness. 

This is an important lesson for children. We may not have a guarantee that we will achieve that happiness or that our dreams will be realized but we do have the right to believe in our dreams, to work toward our own happiness. 

This can be difficult for children to understand because they often see things in terms of what is fair and what is not fair. It takes a while for children to understand their role in things and to understand the power of their own free will.

The consequences that children face can impact their future actions. For example, if a child studies for a test and does well, she might conclude that studying will help her succeed. By giving children the possibility, the dreams, we are giving our children what the founders envisioned, the right to achieve their independence, separate from anyone’s preconceived idea about what they are worth or what they are capable of.

These are the seeds we can plant for our children. These seeds can grow into bigger ideas, bigger concepts that relate to human rights and civil rights.

The founders of our country, the early colonists, wanted independence, hope, possibilities for themselves and their children.

Today, we want independence, hope, and possibilities for our children and ourselves.

 

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Amy Weisberg

Amy Weisberg M.Ed., LAUSD Teacher of the Year 2019 and LACOE Teacher of the Year 2019- 2020—A mother with three grown daughters and a teacher with 40 years’ experience, consults with teachers and parents, as well as provides support for students. For more information: CompleteTeach.com; amyweisberg@gmail.com.

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