It’s likely that your children are exposed somewhat regularly to news shows and, consequently, have probably heard a lot of discussions about the Constitution. Since September is the month in which we celebrate the Constitution … and 2023 marks the 236th anniversary of its adoption … it seems like a good time to give parents a few tips on helping to educate their children on this most important American document.
In 2015, Arizona became the first state to require that, in order to get a high school diploma or equivalency certificate, students would need to score 60% or higher on a multiple-choice civics test. The questions are taken from the test required for citizenship. Several other states have adopted similar tests, while states like Illinois even require elementary students to pass a Constitution test to be able to graduate.
As a parent, you would do anything to keep your children out of harm’s way. You want them to grow up in an environment where they’re treated fairly, that offers them security, gives them the opportunity to get a good education, and allows them to succeed in a career they love. If only there were a set of rules that would offer equal prospects for leading happy and fulfilling lives to all children.
As it turns out, our founding fathers created a kind of “instruction manual” for our country and our government: the Constitution. Each year, we celebrate Constitution Day on September 17, the anniversary date of its adoption in 1787. Many schools discuss the Constitution with students on Constitution Day.
The Story of the Constitution
During and after the Revolutionary War, which ended in 1783, the Continental Congress served as a temporary government with the Articles of Confederation serving as our first constitution. Unfortunately, the Articles of Confederation was lacking in several areas and failed to offer the type of unity among states that the founders had hoped for.
In 1787, the founders called for a Constitutional Convention to revise the Articles of Confederation into a set of rules which provided for a central government, balanced with individual states’ rights. Various ideas were put forward, and eventually a single document was created and ratified by the states in 1788.
In 1791, the founders saw issues that they had not addressed in the Constitution, and they added the first 10 amendments, which are updates or additions to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The process of amending the Constitution made certain that the document would always remain contemporary, and it could be expanded as our new country was expanding. Today, there are 27 amendments. The ability to update the Constitution is why it’s often referred to as a “living document.”
How the Constitution Affects Kids
Kids should understand that the Constitution influences their daily lives. The Constitution guarantees that they can go online, talk on the phone, read books and newspapers, get an education, not be forced to work, and have any religious belief or no religious belief. As they get older, they’ll learn to appreciate the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to privacy and the right to feel secure in their home. In fact, most laws that form the structure of our lives have their roots in the Constitution.
There are countries all around the globe in which citizens have few rights; they can be arrested and jailed at any time for any reason. The Constitution begins with the words, “We the people,” and it’s still the people that determine the fate of our country.
We have the oldest, most successful constitution in the world, but we can only keep it for as long as people take an interest in it. President Harry Truman said that the highest office in a democracy is that of the citizen. That’s a lesson that children should learn at an early age, so they understand that the future of our country is in their hands and the hands of every other citizen.
Teaching the Constitution at Home
It’s likely that none of us are experts on the Constitution, but thanks to the internet, we don’t have to be. There are plenty of websites that provide great information for every age group. Parents can review the following sites and decide how they’d like to start familiarizing their kids about the most important document in our nation’s history.
- Teaching the Constitution – This comprehensive site, created by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, has everything necessary to get children enthused, including videos, timelines, and games. Every article and several amendments are covered.
- The Constitution for Kids, Grades K-3 – Taught in a way that younger students can understand, this site lays down the basics of the Constitution, including links to coloring pages.
- The Constitution for Kids, Grades 4-7 – Gives the basics of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, with links to many other pages with information on the framers, important amendments, and how a bill becomes a law.
- Constitution Fun Zone – A few activities separated by grade (K-4 and 5-12) that include word finds, crosswords, and treasure hunts.
Although it has lasted for 236 years, the Constitution is a fragile thing. Presidents, congresspersons, Supreme Court justices, and others, constantly try to interpret the Constitution in a way that benefits them. It’s up to the American people to be certain this important document remains the instructions for how our democracy can benefit all citizens, so that it — and our country — have a long and bright future.