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A Parent's Guide To Watching The 2021 Inauguration With Your Kids

Because things are going to look a little different this year

Inauguration Day is upon us. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will soon take their oaths of office. There are, however, more questions than usual surrounding the event besides the typical "how do I watch the inauguration?" What does a pandemic inauguration look like? Will it be safe? Who will be present? What will happen? And, in what feels like a political contentious past couple days, weeks, years, how can I talk to my child about it all, or use it as a jumping off point to talk about other important issues? We've got you covered.

When Is The Inauguration Ceremony?

The ceremony will be held on the West Lawn of the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 12 p.m. EST, preceded by opening remarks, which usually begin around 11 or 11:30 a.m. EST. At noon, the ceremony will begin to swear in Vice President-elect Harris and President-elect Biden, followed by Biden's inaugural address.

What Can I Expect?

The main difference between Biden's inauguration and those of the past is size: the usual 200,000 tickets have been limited to just over 1,000, according to D.C. radio station WTOP, one for each member of Congress and one guest. However, we can still expect some of the traditional pageantry, including a musical performance from Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga singing the National Anthem. Poet Amanda Gorman will read one of her works.

Following the ceremony, President Biden, Vice President Harris, and their spouses will also participate in a socially distanced Pass in Review in front of the Capitol, a military ceremony that represents the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another and for the Commander in Chief to review the readiness of the troops.

The traditional parade will be a virtual and feature performances from across the country (it should look similar to last summer's Democratic National Convention programming). Biden will instead have a Presidential Escort to the White House, which will include representatives from every branch of the military.

Later that night, actor Tom Hanks will host Celebrating America, a 90-minute special celebrating the inauguration with performances from Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, Ant Clemons, and Jon Bon Jovi. Celebrating America will air on ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and MSNBC beginning at 8:30 p.m. EST. It will also be streamed live on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, Amazon Prime Video, Microsoft Bing, NewsNOW, DirectTV and U-verse.

How Long Is The Ceremony?

Because of all the changes this year, there's no way to know for sure. But if past inaugurations are any indication, we can assume the "main event" (swearing in of the President and Vice President, plus the inaugural address), will probably clock in at a little under 90 minutes.

How Can I Watch It?

Most major networks — including ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS, Telemundo, Univision, C-Span, CNN and MSNBC — will all be airing live coverage on television and on their websites and YouTube channels.

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Will Trump Be There?

While outgoing presidents typically attend the inauguration ceremony, President Donald Trump curtly announced on Twitter (before he was banned for life) that he would not be attending. Vice President Mike Pence, however, will be in attendance. "He's welcome," Biden said at a news conference. Of Trump, Biden said "it's a good thing, him not showing up."

What Will Security Be Like? Should I Keep My Kids Home On Inauguration Day?

Security at an inauguration is always tight, but after the violet riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, security has been a focus of public concern. In a statement, citing Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman, who was sworn in on Jan. 8, said, "We have comprehensive, coordinated plans in place to ensure the safety and security of the Congressional community and the upcoming Presidential Inauguration. There will be no public access to the Capitol Grounds during the Inauguration, and the event will go on as scheduled."

In an interview with PBS News Hour, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser shared that requests she had made to the federal government for additional security had been granted — extending the period of time Homeland Security would be covering the event from a day before the inauguration to a week before, and granting her request for a pre-disaster declaration, which allows FEMA and other federal agencies to work with the District to keep the event secure. The National Guard has already begun to deploy into the city, with numbers that could swell up to 20,000, according to reporting from multiple outlets, including NPR, which is reportedly more than twice as many as were deployed for Trump's inauguration in 2017.

Whether to keep kids home throughout the country is a matter of personal choice, but regionally, the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) is urging people, in no uncertain terms, not to travel to attend the event. Despite the heightened security concerns, Biden told reporters on Monday that he is "not afraid."

I'm Watching With My Kids, What Should We Discuss?

There is no dearth of teachable moments that present themselves at a ceremony like this, particularly when we're more involved than ever before in the day-to-day education of our children. Obviously, a lot of specific discussions and activities will depend on your child's age (and what, exactly, you hope to convey). But don't worry: the internet exists to help you out (and so do various educational institutions and resources)! Here are a few ideas to get started:

What Is Inauguration Day, Anyway?

It helps to have a good foundation as to what the inauguration is all about. Though this Inauguration Celebration Kit from OurWhiteHouse.gov — a division of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance — is from Trump's 2017 inauguration, the information about Inauguration Day, from its history to its ceremonies, is great to help kids get a handle on what, exactly, is happening and why. It's also a useful tool to show what usually happens as a jumping off point to talk about the ways the pandemic has changed some traditions.

The Importance Of Taking An Oath

Inauguration Day is, at heart, a day about making a promise. What kind of promises do you make? Why is it important to keep our promises? The Anti-Defamation League has some guidance on discussion for talking about the importance of the promises made at the inauguration ceremony, among other things


The Inaugural Address

The inaugural address is about what the president wants for the country. Depending on your child's age, you can ask what they heard talked about (and what they didn't) and what they want for their country and community. What is important to them? Scholastic suggests an outline for your child to write their own Inaugural Address! (For younger kids, pictures of their vision for America can work, too!)

The Inaugural Theme Is "America United"

Days after the attack on the Capitol by pro-Trump extremists, the PIC announced that the theme for the inauguration would be "America United." On that note, you can ask your child they think it means to be "united"? Why is that important? What are ways we can unite with our friends and neighbors? Who are we already united with?

What Unfolded At The Capitol

Obviously, this will depend on whether your child is old enough or has been engaged in current events. But since the Capitol will serve as the backdrop for Biden's inauguration, eagle-eyed children, especially older children, may notice this is a very different scene than they may have seen on the news in recent weeks. This can be a good opportunity to talk about the building itself, what happens there (the meeting of Congress) and its importance in America. It may also be a source of comfort for them to see the Democratic process taking place there in spite of earlier violence.

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The Historic Nature Of Kamala Harris As Vice President

Once she is sworn in, Harris will be the first woman, Black person and Indian-American ever to serve as Vice President. How does that make your child feel? Why have there not been women or people of color in this position before? It's a hopeful jumping off point to talk about people who have been held back, and what it means to move forward.

Feelings & Observations In General

Is there ever a bad time to talk to your kids about their thoughts and feelings? Sometimes they can be the best person to guide the conversation just based on what they notice. What do they think of the ceremony? What do they see? What do they hear? How does it make them feel? They're observant little creatures, and their observations may lead to a really great discussion (or just be hilarious, because they're observant and random as hell).

The President Is Not The Only Person With The Power To Change The Country

Of course, any civic ceremony is great opportunity to remind kids that no one is too small to make a difference in their community or country. What are ways they make their community better? What can they do moving forward? What are their hopes for the future and what are the things (even little things) they can do to make their world a better place.