It all started when I pulled out the Presidential Cards I made a few years ago to offer a “Knowledge Challenge” in honor of Presidents’ Day for my Passport Kids. I love the spontaneous learning that occurs during the conversations that inspire these challenges.
The challenge was to put all the presidents in order, from Washington to Trump. As a bonus, I asked them to name the eight presidents who had died in office and how they had died. Over the years, I have found that presidential deaths are a great conversation piece with kids and they end up asking questions about all kinds of things. What can I say? If it works, keep doing it.
So in a moment Gecki, a precocious eight-year-old girl asks, “Why is there a mirror on the back of the last card?”
“That’s because we still don’t know who the next president will be, and one day it might even be you.”
Satisfied with my answer, she goes back to playing with the other children. Soon I hear a discussion begin about which of the children will be the next president. I ended the discussion with a spontaneous announcement. “We live in a presidential democracy, so if you want to be president, you must run for office. Write your names on the board if you want to run and we will have elections.” As the children scrambled to write their names on the board, I scrambled to find my post-its.
“Okay, everyone who is going to vote please come into the circle, so that our candidates can give their campaign speeches.” Everyone wanted to play and almost everyone wanted to run. I introduced each candidate in turn. His speeches ranged from “If you vote for me, I’ll let people do anything as long as they don’t break the rules” to “Rain is made of dogs; rain is made of dogs; rain is made of dogs.”
After his speeches, I distributed the post-it ballots. The most common questions were: “Can I vote if I run?” And “Can I vote for myself?” To which I replied, “In a presidential democracy, you can. Everyone can vote, even Miss Lucy and me.”
We count the votes and announce the winners; Jerome was president and Gecki he was vice president. I grabbed my pocket Constitution, yes I’m a nerd who carries a pocket Constitution in my purse, along with some donated old coasters that I had kept because they looked a bit like prizes. “It’s opening time,” I yelled.
“What is an opening?” asked one of the children.
“It’s when they take the oath of office,” I reply. “Come look.”
While humming Hail to the Chief, I had each of them stand up and put their hand on the Constitution, and swear to “faithfully execute the Office from President of the United States, and to the best of its ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. “
Halfway through the ceremony, two of my other regular kids came in, late from basketball practice.
“What’s going on?” asked Brian, age ten.
“We swear in our new president,” was the reply.
“I want to be president.”
“Too late, we already voted.”
“But I wasn’t here. I want to accuse him.”
I informed him that only the House of Representatives can impeach the president.
“So I want to be that,” and as I put a quick diagram of the branches of our federal government on the board, the kids held a special election to fill the vacancies in the House and Senate. They declared their intention to run, gave speeches, made promises, and finally voted.
Brian was elected Representative to the fifth grade, and immediately after being sworn in, he got the House of Representatives to impeach the president.
His joy was a little squashed when I told him that the Senate had to hold a hearing to judge whether impeachment was not upheld, and in the meantime, Jerome was still president; Then I told Jerome that he might want to appoint someone to the Supreme Court.
Jerome scrunched up his face, looked around and said, “I’ll name you … YOU!”
“I think he has made an excellent decision and I promise to defend our Constitution. Now let’s see if the Senate approves his appointment.” The Senate did, and I let the president swear me in because we had no other justices to swear in.
We then held an impeachment hearing, and try as he might, Brian couldn’t get the Senate to agree to impeach Jerome.
With the day almost over, the children demanded to know when the next elections would be. “Well, I guess if we turn years into weeks, we should have our next election in two weeks for Representatives, six weeks for Senators, and four weeks for President and Vice President,” I told them. Not satisfied, Gecki He asked if we could impeach the law, so we had a discussion about what is required to amend the Constitution. When they asked how long I would be a judge, I proudly explained the meaning of dating for life. Brian wanted to know all the powers he had as Speaker of the House, so I pulled out my pocket Constitution and before I knew it, I had six heads huddled around listening to me avidly as I read parts of the Constitution to them.
Brian was thrilled to learn that, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, he was third in line for the presidency. He was also intrigued that in 1778, the year the Constitution was finally ratified, they wrote the word elect as chuse, sparking a new discussion on how languages evolve.
The saga will continue as we will keep this new game a permanent part of our after school program. It’s been over a week, and they still haven’t gotten tired of playing it and my Pocket Constitution is referenced on a daily basis. Also, I daresay my children know a little more about how a presidential democracy works than some adults I know.
Games are really the best way to teach.