The Constitution outlines exactly what the government is allowed to do. It isn’t supposed to do anything more. Because when it starts taking on more powers and responsibilities it removes those powers and responsibilities from the States or from the People. One part of the Constitution is especially written to make sure government doesn’t encroach on certain rights of the people. This section, the first ten amendments, is called the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights is one of the few promises politicians have ever kept. The authors of the Constitution promised that if the Constitution were passed, a bill of rights would very shortly follow. These rights are specifically enumerated (or in other words, spelled out in plain English) so as to prevent the federal government from becoming tyrannical. The rights are not granted by government, but are instead acknowledged as rights from God, sometimes termed Natural Rights, and prohibit government from trespassing on them.
Read the Bill of Rights
Before you read the first ten amendments with your kids take some time to read them yourself and think them over. They truly are written in plain English, it does not take a legal mind to understand them or a judge to interpret them. They are the People’s, the People demanded them, wrote them, approved them, voted them in, and now own them. They need to be written on our hearts and understood with our minds.
Here is a good summary of the Bill of Rights in language simple enough for kids. (You should have read and understood the original language first, so you can disagree with the altered wording if you think it necessary.)
Bill of Rights Matching Game
As you learn about them with your kids first become familiar with them as a whole. Play a matching game to help kids remember which is which. At this point you’re not worried about the meaning, just with becoming familiar.
Print out the Bill of Rights Matching Game on card stock, have the kids draw illustrations for each one, then cut apart the cards.
To play, turn the cards all face down and mix them up. Take turns drawing two cards at a time. If the number and the description match you get to keep the set. See if you can remember all ten matches without having to look it up.
The description cards are arranged opposite their amendment title on the printable. But if you forget the order after they’ve been cut apart you can refer to this.
The Ten Amendments One By One
After you have become familiar with them, learn about them one by one. In ten, fifteen or twenty minute sessions your kids can know more than congress. Look up any unfamiliar words. It can be very helpful to relate the amendments to historical cases regarding them or to modern day controversy or laws surrounding them. One or another of the first ten amendments is constantly under attack, which just goes to show you how much we need them and why.
Besides discussing the individual amendments, talk about the value of writing down the law versus just having a tradition or oral understanding. Another point to make is that the Constitution is not to set up to organize the government as much as it is to limit the government and protect the people. If you read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights with this point of view, you will understand it better.
For further reading: The Bill of Rights (Government in Action) by John Hamilton for younger kids or In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights In Action by Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy for high school and up. Again, read them with your student so you can discuss them.
- The history behind the ten amendments and the Constitution is crucial to understanding them, so read up on the Founders.
- Research the government structure and constitutions of other countries around the globe (the very concepts of written constitutions and bills of rights come from America). It is helpful to see how many people have been blessed by the correct principles written in our founding documents.
- Learn how an amendment to the Constitution may be adopted.
- There are many constitutional amendment proposals at any given time. Learn about a few of them. Think carefully through the consequences such an amendment might have. Do you agree or disagree with the need for the amendment?
- A discussion of the Tenth Amendment for kids can be found here.
- Learn about the principles behind the American form of Government by purchasing Foundational Principles of Good Government for your high schooler and yourself.