Saturday, 22 April 2017

Engaging Children In Politics

A couple of months before the last general election, Michael and I bought a television for the first time since we were married. We are both interested in politics, and staying up to watch the results come in is something we enjoy; since we weren't going to be on holiday as we had been for the previous election, we bought a television.

We also made an effort to engage our children, particularly our older two, in the event (although we didn't let them stay up!) and in thinking about politics in general. This made quite an impression, and we often have discussions about government and political parties and what we believe the role of the state is in our lives. This isn't always very deep, and certainly not always serious, but they are becoming better thinkers in this area.

We want our children to be responsible citizens, and to apply Biblical principles in this too. We also want them to see that doing this will mean careful, nuanced thinking, and a gracious attitude. We model this imperfectly, and teach these things in a flawed way at times, but they are growing up aware of many of the issues at stake as we consider our role as Christians in society.

Here are a few ways that we have helped this to happen:

1) Conversation. We talk about politics with the children, usually over a meal table. Often, this begins with Michael or I making a comment to each other, and one of the children asking for an explanation.

2) Predictions. Often this will be simply going round the table with everyone saying what they think the outcome of an election will be, and maybe why. For the last general election, Michael produced a large table which we filled in with how many seats we each (Michael and I) thought each party would win. We made several predictions leading up to the election so we could adjust our suggestions according to the polls (ha!), or gut feeling. The day before the election, our older boys each had a guess too. After the result, Michael did some clever maths to find out that the boys had beaten us both (they paid less attention to polls!). We will be doing the same again this time.

3) First News/The Week Junior. We subscribe to both of these for the children at the moment, (though I think The Week Junior is a bit better so we may stick to that alone soon). Both cover the major political events in the UK. Often we'll start talking about something to find that our children have been reading about the issue already. After the last election, we were having a conversation with friends trying to remember the make up of the new cabinet when my eldest wandered off and reappeared with his copy of First News opened to a page with all the new cabinet members listed. He'd clearly been reading it, and absorbing at least some of what he read.

4) Thinking About Thinking. Again, much of this might happen informally. Today I showed my children a Star Wars themed internet meme featuring some key political figures. Talking about the point it was making, how it was making it, and if it was, in fact, using valid reasoning (No in case you were wondering!) was a good exercise in critical thinking.

My eldest has also recently read a book called The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn. It is a book written to help children spot bad reasoning. I put it on the kindle so that we could study it together, but my oldest son worked through it before I had chance (with permission), has re-read it a number of times, and has read many, many examples aloud to us over dinner at various points. Some guests have also been fortunate enough to be introduced to it too! He loves this book, and we've had some great conversations using it. Already, my 9 year old has spotted a politician using a red herring when answering (or not answering a question) thanks to the instruction he has received from his older brother.

5) Visit to Parliament. Clearly this was a special trip, and not possible for everyone, but a couple of years ago I took the boys on a trip to parliament organised by another home education group (our daughter was too young at the time). We took part in a session which is offered for school visits, which included a tour around the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and a workshop about making laws. The boys still remember this as a fantastic trip, and actually remember a huge amount of what they learned too.

The Boys in Westminster Hall

I imagine that there will be plenty of opportunities to continue our conversations over the next few weeks, and our younger children (particularly our 7 year old) are beginning to join in the discussions too.

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