Political Pundits, Presidential Polls and Primary Debates—Helping Children Understand the Presidential Election Process

October 12, 2015

Baylor professors share four tips for parents to help children navigate politics

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Media contact: Tonya B. Lewis, (254) 644-3301

WACO, Texas (Oct. 12, 2015) — Every U.S. presidential election season teems with political pundits, presidential polls and primary debates. Commentators and talking heads abound on TV critiquing candidates’ every move, including their debate and campaign trail performances. It can be overwhelming and difficult to understand for adults, but imagine if you are among the youngest Americans—children.

Baylor researchers have four tips to help parents and educators explain the presidential election to children in fun, engaging and non-partisan ways.

Brooke Blevins, Ph.D., assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in Baylor’s School of Education, and Karon LeCompte, Ph.D., assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in Baylor’s School of Education, both agree that teaching civics education is vital to today’s youth, especially amid declining civics education in American schools.
1. Use political campaigns and presidential debates to spark dialogue.
“Ask your students or children to watch a political campaign advertisement or part of a debate with you and then have a conversation about what they observed. Ask probing questions,” Blevins said.
Such questions include:
• What messages are the candidates trying to communicate?
• What kind of people are they trying to reach?
• Were you persuaded/ convinced by what they said? Why or why not?
• What did you like about what that candidate had to say?
• What did you not like about what that candidate had to say?
• Do you feel like you can trust that candidate? Why or why not?

2. For this tech-savvy generation, try online video games.
Blevins and LeCompte recommend parents use iCivics, a free web-based, high-tech civics education experience, focused on online gaming. iCivics, which has been played more than 10 million times by students across the country, has several modules on citizenship, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, budgeting, separation of powers and the branches of government.
“Children can play the game, ‘Win the White House,’ where they quickly learn that running for the presidency isn’t easy,” LeCompte said. “In ‘Win the White House,’ children manage their very own presidential campaign by raising funds, polling voters, launching media campaigns, and making personal appearances. Students must keep a close eye on the map as they battle over electoral votes and popular support.”
Parents can visit iCivics.org, where they can register as teachers and gain access to many lesson plans and resources.
3. Turn civics education into civic engagement—let students put into action what they learned.
“Students might encourage their school to host a mock election, complete with a mock presidential debate. Students can also volunteer to help with a presidential campaign in their local community,” Blevins said. “With parent support, students can help pass out promotional material, put up signs and spread the word for the candidate they support—both locally and nationally. Students might also choose to hold a bake sale or garage sale to raise funds to donate to a candidate of their choice.”
"In addition to supporting political campaigns, students can also advocate for other issues they are concerned about in their local communities, such as homelessness, poverty, animal rights or bullying. Students can research organizations already tackling these issues and join in those efforts or write local legislators advocating for change, or even share their ideas at city council meeting,” Blevins said.

4. Plug into already established enrichment programs.
“Over the past three summers, we have organized a free summer civics program called iEngage Summer Civics Institute for students entering fifth through ninth grade in the Central Texas region,” LeCompte said. “The institute provides vibrant educational experiences such as meeting local civic leaders, city manager and city council members, participating in a mock trial with local judges, a field trip to the Baylor Law School where students learned about various elements of the legal process from local attorneys, hands-on activities and online gaming through iCivics.org.”

As social studies teacher educators, Blevins and LeCompte focus on best practices for teaching civics. In the past three years, Blevins and LeCompte have authored six studies on video gaming in civics education as action-oriented civic engagement. In 2011, they conducted a ninth-month long study of 250 primary and middle school students in the Waco area to determine the effectiveness of iCivics as a learning tool.
Blevins was honored with the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Research in Social Studies Education SIG Best Paper Award for her work with the Social Studies Inquiry Research Collaboration in 2011. In 2013, Blevins received the American Association of Teaching and Curriculum Outstanding Dissertation Award for Teaching.
LeCompte has been awarded several fellowships including the iCivics Summer Fellowship in 2012, the Summer 2005 Transatlantic Outreach Program Fellowship for travel and expenses to Germany and the Summer 2003 Keizai Koho Fellowship for travel and expenses to Japan.

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.


Founded in 1919, the Baylor School of Education is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. The School prepares leaders beginning in undergraduate programs, continuing through master’s-level work and culminating in both Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs; impacts the world as students participate in faculty-guided fieldwork, service learning and community-focused research in local and global contexts; and shapes the future by mentoring the whole person, developing an understanding of theory and practice and encouraging responsiveness to one’s calling.