January 20, 2009 marked a momentous occasion in American history as we swore in our first African-American president, Barack Obama. The youth appeal of the Democratic senator from Illinois was evident last election season—Obama gear was almost as likely to be sported at the play ground as at the water cooler, and over one million children voted blue in Nickelodeon's online 2008 Kids Pick the President "Kids' Vote". Clearly, the new generation is cutting their teeth on political awareness—and living through history. While they may have years to go before they can cast their first real ballots, you can still help your kids stay excited about democracy in action during this landmark inaugural week.
The swearing-in of our 45th chief executive of the United States (President Obama, or Governor Mitt Romney) will be far more meaningful to children if they understand what to expect. Starting in 1937, Inauguration Day has been slated for January 20th. Traditionally, the ceremony takes place around mid-day on the steps of Washington, D.C.'s United States Capitol and actual involves the administration of two oaths—that of the president-elect and the vice-president-elect. The oath of office requires the president-elect to affirm or swear to execute his office staunchly and "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution. The formalities are followed by parades, an inaugural speech and balls to celebrate the occasion.
Watch It With most network television stations covering the inauguration, your kids may be hard pressed to miss the ceremonies. But if the CNN or MSNBC full coverage is a little too intense for your child, there are other ways to take part that may be more on their level. For a truly kid's eye view, children's network Nickelodeon has offered their own coverage of events in the past. Nickelodeon's coverage, which reflected an unprecedented youth interest in the 2008 election, targets the same preteen demographic of Malia and Sasha Obama, the First Daughters.
To prepare your children for the solemnities of the inauguration, read the inaugural oath as contained in the Constitution—kids may be surprised to find out just how short it is. Obama took for the theme of his inauguration “A New Birth of Freedom,” a nod to President Abraham Lincoln (upon whose Bible he will take the inaugural oath) and his Gettysburg Address. With that theme in mind, it might be fun for kids to create a card using words kids think the next president might use when he gives his inaugural address—change, hope, freedom, America, etc.—and play Inaugural Bingo as they watch the speech and listen for key words and phrases.
Write It John F. Kennedy instituted the idea of an inaugural poet when he invited Robert Frost to read at his swearing-in ceremonies. Bill Clinton continued the tradition with Maya Angelou and Miller Williams, while Obama's choice, Elizabeth Alexander, is a Pulitzer Prize finalist who writes about themes near and dear to Obama's heart—crossing divides of culture and class.
Encourage your kids to get into the patriotic spirit by composing inaugural poems that echo their own dreams and hopes for America. Help them choose words of inspiration and reflect together upon where this nation has been, where it is now, and where it is going in the future.
You might also help kids write their own oath—not of office, perhaps, but of good citizenship. In the spirit of JFK (to whom Obama bears constant comparison), ask your children not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country! Perhaps they will pledge to go green, to read the newspaper, to participate in Kids Voting USA . . . the inauguration is a great time to instill a sense of patriotism and civic responsibility in children.
Celebrate It Many libraries and local bookstores (Borders, in particular) are making efforts to hold inaugural parties for children. Many of these events include games, scavenger hunts, and art. However, if your local bookstores or libraries are not hosting activities, with a little imagination you can throw your own inaugural ball. Wear red, white and blue, download coloring sheets from the Kids for Obama website, create Obama’s famous “O” logo out of paper plates, play patriotic music—there’s nothing like a Sousa march for holding your own kitchen parade—or pop 1776 or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington into your DVD player.
“It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today,” said Barack Obama, “but we have just begun. Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today.” We can start that work for our children now by giving them a taste of history in the making during this significant inauguration.