Guess who’s celebrating its 233rd birthday this 2020?
The United States Constitution!
It is pretty incredible that just four sheets of paper which document the original text of our Constitution have come to impact the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans for 233 years -- and those yet to be born! That makes September 17th an important day in our nation’s history (though it doesn’t matter what day you choose to teach and celebrate!).
With the six steps below, you can make this world-famous document come alive any day of the year for even the littlest Americans. But first, let’s cover what the U.S. Constitution is.
The U.S. Constitution begins with The “Preamble.” As the U.S. Courts website explains, the Preamble “clearly communicates the intentions of the framers and the purpose of the document.”
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The Preamble includes fifty-two carefully selected words that outline the document’s mission and the prime values of the government it goes on to detail. The body of the Constitution outlines the powers of the government in seven “articles” or sections.
The White House website says that “The Constitution of the United States of America is the supreme law of the United States. Empowered with the sovereign authority of the people by the framers and the consent of the legislatures of the states, it is the source of all government powers, and also provides important limitations on the government that protect the fundamental rights of United States citizens.” So the Constitution is both the fountain of power and the dam that stops it.
In case you find yourself wondering, “But wait, what exactly is the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence?” No worries -- that’s a common question, so click here to find out! One fun factoid differentiating the two documents involve the signatories. While most people know the first signor of the Declaration of Independence (John Hancock), fewer know who first signed the Constitution: George Washington.
Gotta love good ‘ol George. His famous phrase “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen” also could have included “First to sign the Constitution,” but I suppose it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well.
Now that you know a bit more about the Constitution, here are six ways to talk about it with your kids:
1. Read the Preamble at dinner
Reading the full text of the Constitution might not be up your kid's alley just yet, so begin with the opening lines of the Preamble. Depending upon your kids's ages, you might create a challenge for them to memorize it! To help with that, check out Step #2.
2. Sing about it, listen to it.
It’s amazing how much more we can remember when we put words to a song.For the youngest kids, we introduce you to the melodic Constitution Song. With lovely imagery depicting American history, your kids will also enjoy seeing peers their age in a recording studio. Get ready to have your kids want to record their own American tunes!
For older kids, the Constitution Rap performed by Smart Songs is a great choice. Smart Songs is an educational music group founded in 2008 to “provide kids and teachers with fun and educational hip hop that makes learning fun.” This one is also great because the lyrics appear on the video, so readers can follow -- or rap -- along!
For the kid in you, enjoy this blast from the past as you share with your kids School House Rock - The Constitution which you most likely remember from Social Studies when you were in school.
For kids of all ages, we recommend this whiteboard video on The Constitution and Bill of Rights. e like this because it combines auditory and visual learners. Little ones will be amazed with how quickly the narrator can draw! Even if they don’t quite grasp the larger concepts, they will begin to understand the pictorial ones. You might just find them later drawing a “stick figure” sketch of the First Continental Congress!
3. Read kid books about it.
by David Catrow
Narrated in the form of a silly camping trip with the family dog, Catrow’s hilarious illustrations show kids what it would look like if the Preamble were acted out for a camping trip.
By Peter Spier
Written in a more mature tone than We the Kids, but filled with many clear illustrations for talking through Constitutional concepts with your kids. They will “see” what is written in our founding document!
4. Eat cupcakes and sing happy birthday!
Pick up ready-made treats or bake them yourselves! Either way, your kids will be thrilled that on a school night you’re having a party with celebratory dessert. And if you’re reading this post after September 17th, who doesn’t love a belated birthday celebration? Don’t forget the candles (all 233 would be lovely, but not necessary)! Funfetti and frosting is always a hit. The day is smelling better already.
5. Watch this two minute video about what the Preamble means to teenagers
While this video features older kids speaking, we still find it helpful for younger ones and for ourselves (for instance, the clip offers some additional ideas for next Step #6). Kids always love learning from big kids too. Doesn’t hearing from these teens give you renewed confidence for the future of our country?!
6. Write your own family Constitution -- or at least talk about it.
Here’s an idea to help your kids conceptualize the significance: just as the U.S. Constitution lays out the principles for governing and what our government is allowed to do, your family Constitution can outline the values which are most important to your family (scroll down here for a list of Primerrily’s favorites) and some of your family rules. It will be fun to hear which of those values and rules are on the top of your kids’ minds. Then write those down and have your kids sign it -- just like they were George Washington! Below are some the values my kids came up with for the Riner Preamble.