Bill of Rights For Kids

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.

Why does the Constitution matter?

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.

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Print out the Bill of Rights Matching Game on card stock, have the kids draw illustrations for each one, then cut apart the cards.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

Additional Layer

  • 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.

More From Layers of Learning

 

Garrett is learning to shoot with a BB gun. Sometimes we take him on a range with a .22 rifle. When he is older he will learn to use otehr calibers of guns. Part of learning to use a gun is learning the respect the weapon. that is best taught from a young age and in a secure environment.
Learn about the 2nd Amendment and what it means.

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Learn about the 1st Amendment.

2 Comments

  1. This seems an ideal site to discuss the difference between the Bill of Rights as it applies to adults and as it applies to minors. Somewhere child-friendly should.

    Here’s my take as a foreigner.

    They’ve weaker rights under the first amendment (less free speech in schools, juvenile curfews, and can they meet up with girlfriends/boyfriends without parental approval, etc).
    Second amendment rights for kids are really tough, but IMHO if you have a gun culture it’s essential to teach the proper respect and handling of guns as soon as possible.
    Third amendment doesn’t apply as kids can’t own property in the first place.
    Fourth amendment, also watered down. School lockers can be searched at the lowest level of reasonable suspicion by a teacher, but not by a policeman alone. Teachers and parents can confiscate kids’ stuff. Property rights are minimal.
    Fifth and Sixth amendment rights are pretty well covered for minors (grand jury excepted), but if ten year olds are to be expected to understand their Miranda rights (and I read that’s what the courts say), they are going to need advanced warning of what these amendments mean. Also real world advice like: kids can’t lie to cops (obstruction), but cops can lie to kids (interrogation). Ten years old seems way too young to teach them what they need to know, at least it seems that way to me.
    7th isn’t really applicable if they’ve no direct access to the civil courts.
    8th is different for minors – no right to bail, but no death penalty either.
    9th and 10th don’t really apply to kids, do they? They have enough trouble accessing their enumerated rights.

    So two rights apply almost in full, four are watered down, and four don’t apply at all. Is that really right?

    1. Kids are always under the authority of their parents and should be protected by their parents and provided for by their parents. So, no laws never apply the same way to children as they do to adults. Children can’t “legally” do much of anything. However, it is important to recognize that the inherent rights behind the reasoning of the Bill of Rights and other statements of human rights apply as much to children as to any other group. For example, the second amendment isn’t really about guns or weapons, it is about the right to life. We have the right to weapons because we have the right to live and to protect our own lives, even to the point of deadly force. Children have the same right to life even if they can’t (and shouldn’t) tote guns around with them. They have the rights of conscience and equal protection of the law that adults do. It’s just that as children the actual legal code must be applied to them differently.

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