Homeschooling Unit Studies: American Government

Suggestions as a guide to create your own homeschooling unit study about the Political system of the united states.

A GOOD BEGINNING: THE CONSTITUTION

Start by defining the word "constitution." Look it up in the dictionary and examine the roots of the word. Consider why the document is called a "Constitution."

Read the pre-amble to the Constitution, breaking it down phrase by phrase with the child and discussing the meaning of the words.

If the child is able, have them read the original Bill of Rights. For younger children, find a description of the bill of rights in a more simplistic language.

Possible discussion topics:

-Why were these items important enough to specify in the Bill of Rights?

-How are these liberties still protected today?

-Do you think there were any important issues that were left out of the Bill of Rights?

Spelling/Vocabulary Idea: Choose words right out of the Constitution: preamble, union, justice, domestic, tranquility, welfare, liberty, posterity, ordain, etc.

Suggested Reading:

Grades 1 - 6

"If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution" by Elizabeth Levy

"We The Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States" by David Catrow

Grades 5 - 9

"My Brother Sam Is Dead" by James Lincoln Collier

"American Political System" by Robert Liston

Grades 8 - 12

"Animal Farm" by George Orwell

"Constitutional Amendments" by Barbara Feinberg

Project Idea: Founding Father Internet Scavenger Hunt. This project is especially fun if it is a race by more than one child, but it can be between a child and parent. Write the names of all the signers of the Declaration of independence on index cards and put them in a hat. Ideally, each child should have their own computer, so if you don't have enough to accommodate you at home you can either go to the library and sign up for the public computers, or give each child a turn with a specific time limit (such as 30 minutes). If you want to go low tech, have kids use a set of encyclopedias instead of the internet.

The children run to the hat and pick a name at random. Then they run to the computer and have to find and write down the founding father's birthplace, date of birth and death, occupation, three random facts and a quote attributed to the founding father. When done, they have to run back to the hat and pick another name. They do this until all the names are gone (or their time runs out). Whoever gets the most cards with accurate info wins.



THE STRUCTURE OF THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT

Look into the three branches main of the American government (executive, legislative, judicial). Examine some of the sub-divisions of each branch. Discuss the system of checks and balances, and the reasoning behind separation of powers.

Project Idea: Get some brown butcher paper or some brown paper grocery bags (while folded, cut off the bottom, then up the side, then it will unravel into one, long strip). Cut out a long tree trunk and tape it to the wall. Then, cut out three separate branches (with some smaller branches branching out of each of those) and tape them to the wall extending from the trunk. On an index card, write, "The Constitution," and tape it to the lower trunk of the tree. On additional index cards, write the different branches of government and tape one to each branch. Use index cards to add sub-divisions or add information. On red cards, or cards marked with red stickers or ink, write what each specific branch can not do, and attach it to the appropriate section on your tree. On a green card, or a card marked with green stickers or ink, write what that specific branch has the power to do, and place those on the tree.

POLITICS

Time to party-- look up the two main political parties (Democrats and Republicans) and discuss the difference between the two parties. What are their symbols? What do they stand for? With what ideals/beliefs are they associated? How do they differ? How are they similar? What is democracy, and what is a republic? What are the origins of parties? Why did our government become partisan?

Now look up the many other third parties (Green, Socialist, Libertarian, Workers, etc.). What do they stand for? How do they differ from the Democrats and the Republicans? Do any third party candidates stand a chance in elections? Why or why not? Is the party system fair?

For older students, discuss the Electoral College. Topics for discussion or writing:

-How does the Electoral College work?

-How do electors get selected?

-Why did the founding fathers institute the Electoral College?

-Is the Electoral College still a good system, or should it be replaced by the popular vote?

Find out the next elections coming up for your local representatives (city council, mayor, congress). Research the candidates and follow the election.

Field Trip: During an election, visit several campaign headquarters, or volunteer at one.

Project: Find either a board game at an educational store or an on line game about the U.S. Presidents.

MISC. RELATED STUDIES

Study how a bill becomes a law. If you can find the old School House Rock video (now widely available in libraries and stores that sell educational supplies), look for the video, "I'm Just a Bill," which describes the process with a catch tune. Contact the US Mint for a free video describing the history of money, and how it is made. Visit a post office and ask for information from the workers on this government agency.

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