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Teach Your Child the Basics of Government

Taking the time to teach your child the basics of government will help them understand what they hear and read about the world and world events. It doesn’t have to be done in one sitting! But having a good understanding of the world’s governments will make it easier to answer their questions as they arise.

Although there was a time when government in any form did not exist, the last seven thousand years has seen the growth of government around the world. As population grew in an area, people banded together for protection, which is even today, one of the primary functions of government.

Today, governments generally oversee a country or state’s economic and military activities, but also are involved in social and environmental security. Whatever the form of government, people surrender some of their personal power in exchange for a measure of security against real or perceived enemies.

Most countries embrace a single form of government. Some are a blend of two or more types. The various forms of governments are listed here to provide a common language for you and your child.

  • A monarchy is rule by a single individual, often a king or a queen, that inherited their position, and will pass the role to their heir. An example would be Great Britain.
  • A dictatorship is rule by a single individual who holds total power over a country. An example is the ancient Roman Empire.
  • Despotism is rule by an individual who considers all people his or her slaves. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt were despots.
  • An oligarchy is rule by a small group of either related persons or people with a common interest. A modern example would be South Africa.
  • A plutocracy is a government ruled by the wealthy. One example is the city-states of ancient Greece.
  • A democracy is a government ruled by the people or by representatives chosen by the people. An example would be the United States.
  • A theocracy is ruled by the religious leaders of a country. An early example is Muhammad who ruled the early Muslims.
  • An anarchy is the absence of government and the provisions provided by a government. Somalia in the 1990’s is an example.

Wherever you live, you will have one of these types of government. Knowing how your own government works and the terms used for leaders and other officials will help you explain these things to your child.

The world at this time is a “mixed bag” of ruling styles, with resulting conflict and confusion. It is difficult to imagine a world without government, and equally difficult to imagine a world with one government. As your child grows they may be puzzled by world events. Sharing what you know about the governments of the world will help them better understand and follow current happenings.


Letting your child know what a president, a king and queen, or other leader, depending on where you live, does will set the stage for further discussion. At this age it is only necessary to answer questions as they arise.

During play it will be natural to be the king or the princess! Children somehow know the significance of these roles. It is interesting to watch as they play out their interpretation of those figures.

Children cannot be totally protected from the worrisome events around the globe. Television and other media will provide many images that may disturb your child. They may have nightmares or act out some of their confusion in play. Helping him or her feel safe and protected within your home will ease some of their fears.

Main points to address:

  • Children will play out their understanding of leadership, power, and control.
  • Children will be exposed to worrisome world events. Help them feel protected and secure within their home.

Grades K-3rd

As children grow, they become more aware of the world around them. School will provide some of the history of the world at this time. Understanding that the world was not always the way it is now will become more established in awareness.

Children start by understanding family relationships, followed by a connection and awareness of community. Being part of a community serves and meets many basic needs. Community workers keep us safe and provide for many public needs.

At this developmental stage some children will have already gained a sense of history and a beginning knowledge of diversity. Taking your child to a museum with artifacts or art will help them connect with other times in a real way. Choosing books to read that are set in another time will also help them gain a historical perspective.

Learning about inventions and the way technology has and is evolving will also give them strong messages about the way the world has changed. This growing awareness will set the stage for learning about world governments in later grades.

Main points to address:

  • Children this age grow increasingly aware of community and diversity.
  • Visit an art museum or a museum of natural history to help them put things in a historical perspective.
  • Choose books set in other times and places.

Grades 4-6th

During these grades children will be taught the history of their immediate area, and about the state, region or province they live in. This will probably be within the context of the history of the world. During this time they will receive information that may or may not be totally accurate, as documenting and interpreting history is always blurred by time and personal perception.

You can help your child understand systems of government in your state, country or province by visiting governmental buildings and landmarks. This will no doubt inspire their curiosity. Answering their questions as best you can will be supplemented by literature and lessons in school.

Being involved in your community will give your child a practical experience of people banding together to perform a service. Telling them the ways people benefit or are controlled by the government where you live will inform them of some of the functions of government The roads you drive on, the jails that hold criminals, the schools they attend are in most areas of the world maintained or overseen by the government.

Some other ideas: Have maps and a globe in your home so you explore where things are. If you vote, take your child with you. When you mail a letter, explain how the government makes sure the letter gets where it’s going safely. For most of in the world, the government is involved in many of our endeavors.

Your child will develop a greater knowledge and curiosity of the way various governments operate around the world. Knowing the basics yourself will help you provide a balanced view of how the world operates.

Main points to address:

  • School will provide formal teaching on government and politics, which will generate philosophical and religious questions.
  • Have maps and a globe at home.
  • Being involved in your community will show your child the practical use of people banding together.
  • Try to provide a balanced view of the world by being well-informed.


Resources that can help you in your venture include:

Posted in Education.

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