I am homeschooling my 8 year old daughter and I am trying to teach her the basics of US government. One topic that I want to cover is the need to Federal, State and Local governments.

I already established the premise that one of the basic functions of government is to establish laws and provide services. And that some laws pertain to all people in the US, some only to those in our state, and some only those in our county. Similarly there are some services, like national defense, that the Federal government provides, and some services like state colleges that the state provides and some services like police, school and libraries that the county provides.

But I still feel this definition is lacking. Is there anything that can be added to help her understand why we need these three "levels" of government?

  • 2
    There are more than three levels, as there are three levels of local government: county; municipal; school district. I would also caution you on this in that people here are more likely to be experts in political theory than third or fourth grade education or eight-year-olds.
    – Brythan
    Mar 5, 2018 at 18:26

3 Answers 3


For a 8 year old child, I think that the best is some simple idea, interpreting governments as ways of getting people to agree in issues that need a common approach.

The smaller the government, the less people involved and the more things they share, making agreements far easier. It is easier to get an agreement with two friends than with ten, it is easier for local people to understand what you want than for people you barely know and do not know your problems.

But if we stop at this level there appear lots of different governments, each of them taking different decisions and disagreeing between them.

Which, for many issues, it is not a problem, but sometimes all the different towns in an area need to agree. For example, if every town were to make its own decisions, making a road from one town to the other could be complicated (where would the roads met? which side of the road should the cars use?) so there is a government that is common for all people in the same area to take this kind of decisions.

But since the country is so big, there are several of these governments and they have the same problem of some issues needing a common direction. Those issues are passed to yet another level of government, which is the federal one.

If the kid asks why don't simply use the federal government for everything, then the points are:

  • As stated above, local governments should know the needs of the local people better and are in a better position to find the best solution.

  • If every decision has to be made at the federal level, there would be simply too much work for it.

  • Bonus points if you can present this in a way that gets the kid to follow the progression and ask "Why not a world government?"
    – Bobson
    Mar 6, 2018 at 5:44

In trying to translate the foundation of the country is to look at the documents around it. For this specific issue, look to Federalist 45. Though, that is a bit far for an eight year old. Instead, look into a summary of the same

Madison notes the dangers and instabilities feared in a federal system, especially the concern that the national government could take too much power from the states or that the states might overthrow the national government, but argues that the federal system prevents this by being naturally harmonious and symbiotic; that the national government cannot operate without the state governments, while the state governments gain major benefits from the national government.

The state governments, Madison argues, are closer to the people and can focus on the welfare of the people, regulating ordinary affairs such as the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, as well as the internal order of each state, and should have numerous undefined powers to do so, while the national government, being bigger and possessing national resources, can bring victory in war, protect the people’s liberty, and maintain peace between the states, and should have clear, few, defined powers to do so, mostly focusing on external objects such as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce and national taxation. He suggests that in times of peace, the state governments will tend to be larger and more powerful, while in times of crisis and war, the national government will expand as needed. Such a federal system will bring the government as a whole closer to the people than a purely national form of government would.


Do you go to church? If so you might compare the levels of government to levels of authority in the church. For example, the preacher talks to the whole church, but he doesn't make the rules in the Sunday school classroom.

I was initially going to suggest you compare the government to her school where the principal makes rules for the whole school but individual teachers make rules for their classrooms, and the gym teachers make rules for the gym, but since you're home-schooling it is a little harder to come up with an example.

  • 1
    On that note, you could also look up Jethro's advice to Moses, which is where we get the idea of delegation/subsidiarity/federalism in the first place. Exodus 18:17-25.
    – user15103
    Mar 6, 2018 at 16:42

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