Textbooks often discuss the court system, but may not offer a full perspective on how court is actually conducted. Providing a look into the way legal matters are handled on the local, state and federal level can help students better understand legislative issues of the past and present. In addition, students often retain information best when they can interact with it in a unique and exciting manner.
Court Close to Home
Homeschooling has its options for daytime activity. Use this time to your advantage. Take a tour of your local justice system. Choose a day when you might be able to attend a public court activity. Your local judicial system may have specific times for certain court activities.
Remember to think about the age of your students in conjunction with the events that will be underway when you visit. Older students nearing the age of driving may have a greater appreciation for traffic court than younger students. In the same way, younger children do not need to be present during trials related to violence.
Younger kids will likely not be interested for long and may not fully understand what is actually happening. That is okay – they will get to see the room, placement of the judge and maybe meet the bailiff. Tell them that they can be a stenographer for the day and only plan to attend for fifteen to twenty minutes. (Remember to bring paper and writing or coloring utensils.)
Shortly after we moved to our new community, the local government decided to change the laws on homeschooling. We were able to view courtroom activities online and wrote an official letter that was noted during the session. Parents and students spoke on how families needed to retain the freedom to conduct learning in a manner that best suited their students.
This was a good experience for both our 4th grader and our preschooler. The 4th grader learned more about the inner workings of court matters and our preschooler learned that even adults must take turns speaking. We watched our new local friends report on their experiences and the positive options that their families wished to retain.
We learned that some of the local homeschool ‘cooperatives’ did not conduct business legally in recent years. This is the reason that the courts were given an opportunity to intervene. A new law was passed that more clearly stated how homeschooling families are to report to the school district.
These unplanned lessons offered us an excellent opportunity to personally view how court is conducted. We talked about how the local and federal court systems are structured. We also talked about how the justice system has played a significant role in historical events across centuries.
Putting It into ‘Practice.’
We have also enjoyed setting up our own ‘court system’ at home with the help of a couple of homeschooling friends. The kids enjoyed taking turns as the judge, bailiff, and court clerk. The youngest participant simply played the role of stenographer in our little courtroom.
The kids decided what minor ‘offenses’ had been made and what sentences might be applicable. Then they used this information to conduct the mock court sessions. We chose to have two adults act as defendants. This added fun twist to our time and offered a full set of laughter.
Depending on the age and quantity of your students, you may wish to have students write a few paragraphs regarding what they learned. Older students may also act out a mock jury discussion if time permits. This can be done in a couple of ways. Students can choose to speak based on their own observations of ‘evidence.’ If preferred, opposing views can be drawn from a hat and students need to speak according to what is selected by each one.
Communicating in an Adult World
Students can create their own court setting or act out an actual court case from the realms of history. Either way, putting kids into the courtroom using their own tables, chairs, chalkboard and gavel is a wonderful way to begin helping them grasp how legal matters are conducted. This can also help students learn to speak their concerns in a civil manner. In a world filled with growing controversies, mock court activities can serve as a great way for homeschoolers to learn to communicate in an adult world.