The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, and it is crucial for all American citizens ‒even children‒ to understand what these amendments mean. However, teaching the Bill of Rights to kids can be quite challenging. After all, it’s a list of amendments to the Constitution, and amendments are not exactly known for being riveting reading material! They don’t contain flashy illustrations or catchy slogans that get kids excited. After all, it’s just a list of rights…right?
But seriously, the Bill of Rights are actually VERY important. Freedom is THE core American value, and the Bill of Rights guarantees that all citizens can enjoy fundamental liberties. Without the protections in the Bill of Rights, we could be living in a very different country, one in which our most basic rights could be taken away at any moment. Imagine your children growing up in a place where they can’t be themselves, speak their opinions, or pursue the American Dream.
So whether your children find the Bill of Rights boring or because you, as parents, simply don’t have a good understanding of the document yourself, we are here to help!
This blog will provide explanations and ideas to help connect the Bill of Rights to your child’s life, making learning more fun and meaningful for both you and your children!
Why Is It Important for Kids to Learn About the Bill of Rights?
Learning about the Bill of Rights is essential for kids because it helps them understand their freedoms as Americans. In a democratic society, everyone must understand their civil rights and responsibilities. This ensures that the government is accountable to the people AND that people can hold the government to account. Unfortunately, given shifts in educational priorities, school lessons today often breeze over essential history lessons, and some biased teachers even put a spin on lessons to match their narrative. As a result, there are too many young people who are woefully uninformed about their civil rights and liberties.
When kids are uneducated about their civil rights and liberties, they risk being denied those same rights and liberties because they don’t know how to recognize a problem and stand up for themselves. For example, they may not know how to exercise their right to free speech. They may also be unaware of their right to due process or protection from discrimination. Therefore, they may not be able to participate fully in the democratic process or enjoy the full protections of the law.
So while the Bill of Rights may seem like a dry history lesson, it’s actually an essential part of preparing children for their future as active voting citizens. By understanding their rights and responsibilities, kids can play a role in ensuring that all Americans enjoy the freedoms and opportunities our country promises.
The Bill of Rights Simplified for Your Kids
(And Maybe You, Too!)
These first ten amendments to the United States Constitution make up the Bill of Rights. These ten amendments were adopted as a single unit and ratified on December 15, 1791.
Amendment I- Freedom of Speech, Press, Religion, Petition, & Assembly:
While all five freedoms are fundamental, freedom of speech is the right we will discuss in this blog. Being able to express your opinion freely is one of the most extraordinary things about living in a democracy. Imagine if you were living in a country where the government controlled what you could say or write. You would never be able to speak your mind or share your ideas. But in the United States, thanks to the First Amendment, you have the right to express your opinion, even if it goes against the grain.
Amendment I Talking Points for Parents:
Help your child imagine what life would be like if they didn’t have the right to free speech in America. They would be unable to freely write stories, poems, or songs that reflect their inner thoughts and feelings. Many children would become frustrated and unhappy without this outlet for self-expression and creativity. Without free speech, children would also be unable to ask questions in school freely or participate in debates about the topics they are learning about. Ask your child how they would feel if they were too afraid to raise their hand in class and ask a question because the teacher might punish them for simply not agreeing with the question. It is also vital for kids to understand that there are certain free speech restrictions to protect public safety. For example, we cannot shout “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no real fire danger. We also cannot make threats or engage in hate speech. Teach your children that free speech is a right that comes with responsibility.
Amendment II- Right to Bear Arms:
The Second Amendment gives people the right to bear arms, and with this right also comes GREAT responsibility. Whether or not you agree with the notion of gun ownership, it is essential to acknowledge that it is a constitutionally protected right.
Amendment II Talking Points for Parents:
The Second Amendment allows kids to participate in activities like hunting and sport shooting (of course, with parental consent and supervision). For many families, hunting and sport shooting are not only traditions but also hobbies passed down from generation to generation. While this may not seem like a “freedom” for kids at first glance, it actually offers kids the ability to explore and learn about firearms in a SAFE and controlled environment. Children should know that guns are NOT toys and should always be handled with serious care and responsibility.
Amendment III- Quartering of Soldiers:
The Third Amendment prohibits the government from quartering soldiers in private homes against homeowners’ will. Before and during the Revolutionary War, American colonists were forced to allow British soldiers to take over their homes. This was a tremendous violation of privacy and freedom.
Amendment III Talking Points for Parents:
Ask your child if they would like to be kicked out of their comfortable bedroom to sleep on the couch or floor while a soldier sleeps in their bed AND eats their dinner! Although this amendment has never been the primary basis of a Supreme Court decision, kids should understand it stands for the idea that citizens in America are protected from the military intruding into their homes and private property.
Amendment IV- Search & Seizure:
The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures of people and property. This means police cannot enter your home or search your belongings without either your consent or a valid search warrant obtained by probable cause.
Amendment IV Talking Points for Parents:
For example, Paul told the police that Tim was a video game thief. Police could not legally search Tim’s house for a stolen video game just because Paul told them so. Police first need to find probable cause, such as security camera surveillance footage of Tim at the video game store, and then present that evidence to a judge. A judge MUST approve the warrant before police can execute the search.
Amendment V- Rights of the Accused:
The Fifth Amendment provides due process of law and protects against self-incrimination and double jeopardy. Due process means you have the right to a fair trial by a grand jury before being convicted of a crime. Self-incrimination refers to being innocent until proven guilty; you have the right to remain silent, and the refusal to answer questions cannot be used against you in a criminal case. Lastly, double jeopardy simply means you cannot be tried twice for the same crime once found innocent of that crime.
Amendment V Talking Points for Parents:
What if Timothy and Sally got into a disagreement on the playground at school, and the teacher automatically took Timothy’s side of the story? The teacher sent Sally to the principal’s office for detention without giving Sally a chance to share her side of the story. Shouldn’t the teacher listen to BOTH Timothy and Sally’s side of the story before making a decision? Perhaps, the teacher should also ask other students on the playground what they witnessed happen. Sally cannot be punished without first being given a fair chance to explain her side of the story. Sally shall remain “innocent until proven guilty.” This is the idea that due process and self-incrimination represent. Furthermore, let’s say it was proven that Sally did nothing wrong, and Timothy already apologized for pushing Sally on the playground and causing a disagreement. The following week, Sally can not be punished for the same incident after it was already proven that she was innocent. This is the idea that double jeopardy represents.
Amendment VI- Requirements for a Jury Trial:
The Sixth Amendment makes clear the rules regarding CRIMINAL trials. It guarantees the right to a speedy and fair trial before an impartial jury. This amendment also guarantees the right to have a lawyer.
Amendment VI Talking Points for Parents:
Becky can’t sit in jail for three years before her trial if she is arrested for stealing from the grocery store. Becky has the right to a speedy and fair trial. Becky cannot afford a lawyer to defend her in court, so one will be appointed to her for free. Without this, many people would be convicted of crimes they did not commit simply because they could not afford an attorney to help them prove their innocence.
Amendment VII- Rules of Common Law:
The Seventh Amendment says that CIVIL cases, or lawsuits based on disagreements between people or businesses, have a right to be decided by a jury in the appropriate court (federal, state, local). This amendment was added to ensure the government would not get rid of trial by jury.
Amendment VII Talking Points for Parents:
American colonists in the 1700s were concerned that if judges solely decided trials, the judges would side with the government, resulting in too much government power. This happened to the colonists when judges, appointed by the king, would always side with the king. They felt a jury of local people would be more likely to provide a fair and unbiased trial.
Amendment VIII- Limits on Criminal Punishment:
The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. This amendment ensures that the punishments for crimes are not excessive, cruel, or unusual. This amendment also guarantees that accused or convicted individuals must be provided with food, clothing, housing, and healthcare in a safe environment.
Amendment VIII Talking Points for Parents:
For example, if your child got caught sneaking a cookie from the kitchen before dinner without permission, it would be cruel and unusual to lock them in their room for a year. The same goes in the court system; the more serious the crime, the more serious the punishment. A judge can not put a person in jail for six years for not stopping at a red light. However, a judge can order them to pay a fine and enroll in a traffic school course. The punishment should fit the crime.
Amendment IX- Rights Kept by the People:
The Ninth Amendment says that rights not listed in the Constitution are still retained by the people. However, the amendment never specifically states which rights are “retained by the people.” That is the point of this amendment. In other words, you have rights that aren’t officially listed in the Constitution. Different people have different thoughts about these rights.
Amendment IX Talking Points for Parents:
Can you help your child think of some rights they believe are still held by the people? For example, maybe the right to go on vacation, to eat what you would like, or to move to a new home. Other countries do not have all these freedoms. For example, Chinese citizens must first obtain government permission to move to a new location within China. Can you imagine wanting to move to a new city with your family, and you had to fill out mountains of paperwork and jump through a million hoops just to get the government’s permission? And even then, there’s no guarantee they would approve your request!
Amendment X- Powers of the States & the People:
The Tenth Amendment says that powers not given to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved for the states or for the people. This means you have certain rights even if the federal government tries to take them away. There are powers that only the states have (reserved powers).
Amendment X Talking Points for Parents:
For example, the Constitution does not give the federal government power over driver’s licenses. This is a reserved power for each state. The state governments can decide who gets a driver’s license, at what age, or how they can get one.
Have a Bill of Rights Scavenger Hunt With Your Children!
While it can be difficult to explain all of the amendments in detail to your children, a scavenger hunt is a fun way to introduce the concept to kids.
- To get started, print out a copy of the Bill of Rights and cut it into strips with one amendment on each strip. You can easily access a copy of the Bill of Rights here: The Bill of Rights: A Transcription | National Archives.
- Next, hide the ten amendment strips around the house or in a designated area.
- Finally, let your kids loose to find the amendments! As they progress through the scavenger hunt, you can discuss each amendment in more depth and give examples of freedoms they can enjoy because of each amendment.
Not only will your kids have fun, but they’ll also come away with a better understanding of the Bill of Rights and its importance to their lives. Learning about the Bill of Rights is essential to a well-rounded education for children AND adults alike.
Which rights do you think are especially important for children to understand? Let us know in the comments!
This post is sponsored by the Kids Guide to Free Speech & Cancel Culture. For information about this product, click the link below.
Free Interactive Lesson that Teaches Kids about Freedom of Speech