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Social Studies - The Difference Between Rules and Laws - Kindergarten

Lesson Plan: The Difference Between Rules And Laws (Level K)

Subject: Social Studies

Grade: Kindergarten

Lesson Objective: To get the children to understand the basic difference between rules and laws.  

Common Core Standard: KSS1: Demonstrate knowledge of the qualities of a responsible citizen.; KSS1a: Follow rules, share, take turns, and cooperate.; KSSK7: Acquire information through listening and observing.

Materials: None are necessary beyond pencils and paper.


Before the class, the teacher should be clear about the difference between rules and laws. Rules and laws both regulate how we behave in a society. Rules are set by an institution such as a family or a school to regulate how that institution functions. Rules (as the children will discover) differ from family to family. Laws are established by the government and apply equally to all.   

Rules govern institutions, institutions form a society, and laws govern the global functioning of the whole society.


Ask: What time do the children have to go to bed on a school night?

Allow your students to answer and comment on the differences.

Ask: Who decided that you have to go to bed at that time? 

You can ask the whole class or individual students.

Ask: Are there any other things that mom and/or dad tell you to do?

If the children are unsure, prompt them with such daily routines as mealtimes, watching television, putting toys away, and so forth. Allow them to comment on the differences from family to family, but set a "rule" to comment respectfully.

Point out that these are rules that your parents have set. Notice that they are different.


Do: Prepare for a small group activity.

  1. Divide your class into small groups of children. Four to six children per group would be the best number.
  2. Prompt your students to imagine that they are going on a class camping trip for a long weekend. The whole class is going, and there will be adults there. However, the adults are only there to set up the camp and ensure that the children are safe. Ask the groups to come up with a set of rules that all the campers must follow. You can suggest that they should decide on mealtimes, cleaning up, cooking, and bedtime.
  3. The results should be interesting as the groups compare and argue about the different rules they have developed.

The teacher might (if she is brave!) run a similar activity about setting up a new kindergarten. What rules would the children establish? Children are not anarchists (despite evidence to the contrary) and will readily accept that rules are necessary.

(An alternative activity is given below if the above will take too much time.)*

Ask: Why did you come up with your rules? 

Point out that the rules are different but equally valid.

Do: Prepare for a teacher-led activity: Traffic Lights And Teddy Bears.

  1. Begin your teacher-led activity by asking your students to imagine that they are driving to the store with a parent or guardian. As they are driving, they come to a stoplight. The light is changing to red. What do they do? (Hopefully, the children will say 'stop' rather than 'accelerate.')
  2. Ask them why they stop the car. Undoubtedly, the children will think this is a silly question but will eventually come up with 'because they have to.' If you then ask why they have to, they will say that it is a rule. 
  3. The next step is to ask who has to stop at red lights. You should be able to elicit that everyone has to stop.
  4. Now turn to bedtime. Ask some students what time they have to go to bed on school nights. Then ask if the same rule applies to their parent or guardian.
  5. Now comes the teddy bear (or any other object). Ask a student to come to the front and drop the bear. What happened? Would the bear fall to the floor if someone else did it? What about dropping a book?
  6. You won't need to explain gravity to your students. Simply point out that this is a law because it is the same for everybody. Bedtime is a rule because Anna has a different bedtime than Tommy. 

Ask: Can you think of any other laws?

Do: Concluding activity

  1. Read out the following list about a girl of their age. The students should shout out whether they think the examples are rules or laws:
    • Maria has to go to bed at 8:30 on school nights.
    • Maria has to go to school.
    • Maria has to clean her room on Saturdays.
    • Maria can't go to work.
    • Maria can't drive her mom's car to school.
    • Maria can't play video games if she has chores to do.

Let the children argue about their different opinions. They should reach a consensus. 

The above list could be prepared as a worksheet that children complete in pairs. You can, of course, add as many more examples as you wish.

Alternative activity*: 

  1. Ask your students to describe the rules of their favorite game. Why are the rules necessary?
  2. Is it possible to have a game without rules?

This activity will be quicker than the camping trip scenario. If you're short on class time, you might prefer to use this.


Have the students explain the difference between rules and laws to you. You should find that they have grasped the essential differences. 


Your kindergarten kids are used to rules and will understand that rules are necessary (even when they don't like them!). However, they don't have direct experience with laws. They will know that laws exist and will understand that laws have a general application. They won't have thought about this, but this lesson should bring the difference home to them.


Written by Steve Thompskin

Education World Contributor

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