How to Talk to Kids: There's Nothing like a Classroom Visit from a Lawmaker to Bring the Legislative Process to Life. Here Are Five Ideas for Activities That Work
Goehring, Jan, Fischer, Michael, State Legislatures
With schools back in session, it's time to think about reaching out to your young constituents. Meeting personally with students, answering their questions, sharing ideas and listening to concerns can impart a greater understanding of the legislative process. This helps develop good citizens, more effective representation and better public policy. You are uniquely qualified to teach young people--the nation's future voters and leaders--what it's like to be a state legislator: the processes, the pressures, and the debate, negotiation and compromise that are the fabric of representative democracy.
Consider calling schools in your district and setting up a classroom visit. Establish contact with a specific teacher either directly or through the school administrator. Find out if there are existing academic programs in which your participation might be beneficial. These could provide opportunities to raise awareness about our system of government and promote a more positive image of the legislature.
After the initial contact has been established, send your biography to the classroom teacher before your visit. This will help the students and teacher learn more about you and prepare some preliminary questions. As you plan for your visit avoid the temptation to prepare a lecture. The messages you will want to convey are best achieved through discussions and activities on issues students care about. Examples of topics that might be important to kids in your state include school uniforms, violence, driving age, helmets for bicyclists or roller bladers, video game restrictions, smoking on campus, graffiti, competency testing to graduate and curfews.
IDEAS FOR REACHING KIDS
Kids will learn best about what it's like to be a legislator if lessons are personalized. Here are some suggestions for activities you can use with a class. These ideas work best in classrooms, rather than in large, all-school assemblies.
1 Legislative Simulation (high school or middle school). This activity requires advance planning and coordination with the classroom teacher. Before your visit, ask the teacher to work with the class to choose a public policy issue the students think is important and prepare a simple, policy proposal to address the problem. On your day in the classroom, ask several students to form a "legislative committee" to hold a public hearing on the proposal. Have other students present brief "testimony" for and against the proposed policy. Then have the committee members debate the proposal and make a recommendation to the full class. Finally, have the full class discuss and vote on the proposal. At the conclusion of the simulation, explain how this exercise relates to the real-world process of dealing with competing interests, negotiating, compromising and decision making that you experience in legislative life.
2 Solving a Class Problem (all grade levels). Ask the students to pretend they can have a field trip to go anywhere the entire class agrees on. Divide the class into three equal size groups that want to do three different things (e.g., go to the mall, a water park or a professional sports event). …