Understanding what makes up the U.S. Constitution, how our government is set up, and the historical context for it—long ago and more recently—is all vital to create an informed electorate and help us make better decisions when we head to the voting booth (or when we vote by mail from our desks or kitchen tables). But you don’t instantly or automatically become an informed voter when you turn 18. There needs to have been years of learning, study, consideration, and understanding prior to that point.
Schools these days surely cover Government and Civics education, but there is always room for more, and always room for parents to get involved. Or, if you homeschool, you may be unsure of the best way to teach the topic of the U.S. Constitution. Though iCivics is my favorite site for all things Civics, students also need a systematic study of the U.S. Constitution. The workbook The U.S. Constitution: An Owner’s Manual gives that systematic study, and is aimed at middle school kids. (High school kids would get something out of it, too, but it’s not comprehensive enough for that level.)
It’s incredibly important to understand how our U.S. government works, including understanding what’s contained in our governing document, the U.S. Constitution. But sitting down and reading the Constitution without any reference material on hand can be a bit tricky. Over the past two-plus centuries, we’ve interpreted, reinterpreted, changed, and changed again what it includes and how it affects our nation. So it’s important to have a guide when studying it, or when helping your kids understand it. This workbook is a good place to start. It’s also a great option for including in American history, government, or social studies lessons for homeschoolers.
The workbook is broken down into the history and origins of the Constitution, addressing topics such as the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, all seven Constitution articles, Constitutional Amendments, key Supreme Court cases and decisions, and questions and exercises along the way to help kids understand and test themselves on what they’re learning. Whether you, like me, have the Preamble memorized thanks to Schoolhouse Rock or you’re newer to the study of Civics and Government, this book is a great place to begin, especially these days when so many Constitutional questions and issues are being brought up in the news on a daily basis. This book can help you answer your kids’ tricky questions.
Being a workbook, students are encouraged to write in it, underlining and highlighting along the way. This helps kids feel like their particular workbook is theirs, helping them engage with and be invested in its content.
While evaluating this book, I dug in as if I were the student (minus a teacher or guiding parent). I looked through the contents to see what is included, then just started reading. The tone of the book is written in an approachable way, especially for middle-school-aged kids. It speaks directly to the student, trying to connect them to our country’s founding documents in a way that will make sense to them. It translates the words from the documents into more understandable English, and discusses what the words mean, what was covered in the documents, and what was left out. It sums things up and talks about what’s to come. Most sections also include important “Takeaway” boxes that sum up what’s being taught in that section and what students should be getting from it.
After presenting each bit of information, the workbook challenges students to process and analyze what they’ve read and learned, and use that information in new ways, answering questions, organizing their thoughts, and considering the Constitution’s impact. The book also goes over important Latin phrases (such as habeas corpus, quid pro quo, verbatim, in loco parentis, and modus operandi), governments of ancient civilizations, important philosophers’ ideas, and how these all impacted the Constitution’s creation. It dives into the Constitution from its earliest days as a large brainstorming project, how it first became the Articles of Confederation, the different plans proposed by the states, the Federalists vs. the Anti-Federalists (for a great game on that score, check out the iCivics game Race to Ratify), the Constitutional Convention, and then the final version of the document itself.
Following the main document, the book goes into detail for most of the Amendments, though not including the full language for the later amendments for some reason (to learn more about the Amendments, check out Annenberg Classroom’s game That’s Your Right). (Oddly, though, the book stops at the 22nd Amendment instead of continuing through to the 27th Amendment, our most recent one. I hope they remedy this in future versions.)
Next, it includes details for some landmark Supreme Court decisions that were/are important for showing how we’ve interpreted the Constitution over the years. Lastly, there are some open-ended essay questions that would be great to have your kids answer, even if you just discuss them out loud. Then you could find out their position on issues such as, “What do you think of political parties?” and “When, if ever, would security be more important than freedom?” Younger kids may have no idea how to answer these, but it will get them thinking.
Another useful iCivics game to play alongside this book is Do I Have a Right? for general Constitutional rights issues.
Note: This workbook would be well-paired with one of those ubiquitous pocket Constitutions. The workbook helps students learn what the Constitution means, but the parts of the document are shown a bit piecemeal and are often not included in their entirety. So, ideally, kids would have the full text of the U.S. Constitution to refer to as they worked through this book. I received my pocket Constitution in 12th grade Government class (thanks, Mr. McCarthy!) and I still have it. If your house doesn’t have any, you can get some here for the affordable price of $2.75 each, and these official versions published by the U.S. Congress also include the Declaration of Independence.
The visual theming of the book is a little odd, with a toolbox shown for Takeaways and the fill-in sections dubbed “Customer Support” showing a pencil and a screwdriver, but this book is otherwise a solid way to get kids to understand the origins of our U.S. government.
I highly recommend The U.S. Constitution: An Owner’s Manual for all homeschooling families, classroom teachers who have flexibility choosing their teaching materials, and parents who want to make sure their kids understand what our government is founded upon and the history behind it. Working through this book will also help them become more informed voters in the future, laying important groundwork for understanding modern issues. It’s a good price at $19.95, and, if you order from the publisher’s website, shipping only costs $3.00. Alternatively, you can buy it through Amazon, and you’d be buying it direct from the publisher there too, not from a third party.
Even though my kids are past middle school, I’ll be working through this workbook with them to help them understand the Constitution more fully since it’s a fun, interesting, and totally accessible way to learn about the U.S. Constitution. It won’t make you a Constitutional scholar, but it can lay the groundwork for deeper study later.
Midgard, the publishers of this book, also sell related materials on American History, such as American Hero: A Journey Through 400 Years of American History and First Person American: The Story of America Through Speeches, Confessions, Testimonies, and Love Letters, and on World History, such as Time Travel Tours: Your Guide to Human History, Mysteries That Changed History: Hot Takes on Cold Cases, and Civil Discourse and How to Survive it: A Guide to Getting Along. I haven’t had a chance to look through these other titles, but I love the workbook format of Midgard’s materials, and they present information in engaging ways for students, so I’d think these other materials are just as useful. If you’re a teacher or homeschooling parent, the publisher also sells a Teacher’s Guide to each these books, along with one for this U.S. Constitution book.
Note: I received a copy of this book for review purposes. All love of American History is my own. This post contains affiliate links.