When I was in grade school (okay, I'm dating myself here - I don't think anyone calls it "grade school" anymore), we celebrated both George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays each February. The good news: I remember that we observed it; the bad news: I only remember three things about the celebrations.

1. We made black construction paper silhouettes of their profiles.
2. We heard stories about their childhood. (Yes, the famous, but inaccurate, cherry tree story is the first that comes to mind.)
3. We decorated the classroom with red hearts and ate cookies with sprinkles on them. No, wait, I think that was Valentine's Day. Hmmm ... I guess I only really remember two things.

How sad! In-depth studies of our presidents still appear to be lacking, even in the home-school arena. Presidents' Day (Feb. 18th this year) provides me an opportunity to encourage you to spend time year-round learning about our presidents. Perhaps because the office of president took such a beating under the Clinton Administration the appeal of studying presidents just isn't there. Unfortunately, many of our children grew up during that time frame and have not learned respect for the office and for the men who have held it in the past.

I would encourage you to look to these men who have played such a great role in shaping our country. What can we learn about our government, methods of leadership, and the impact one individual can have on society? Do your children know their presidents, chronologically, from Washington to Bush? Do they have a grasp of what made these men great? Can they describe important events related to the better-known men? Can you?

There are tapes available in which the presidents from Washington to Bush are sung in chronological order. There are colorful books, activity books, fact books, flash cards, games, and many other resources to make this job easier.

Here are a few suggestions for activities the KIDS can do (with your assistance as abilities necessitate).

1. Listen to a tape, or make up their own song, about the presidents. Sing it together.

2. Make a timeline. (This does NOT have to be elaborate!)

3. Make a coloring book.

4. Make flash cards.

5. Design your own game to play with those flash cards. For example, make additional cards with either a fact about each president (or naming each of the vice-presidents) and match them up "Memory" style.

6. Use clothing styles, transportation, entertainment, books, chores, communication, hobbies, school, etc. to engage the interest of younger students. (What did Abraham Lincoln's sons wear? What did people drive when Roosevelt was president? What did people do for amusement during George Washington's presidency?)

7. After researching, verbally compare and contrast presidents, their lives, and accomplishments. Make a chart or Venn diagram to illustrate findings.

8. Make an ABC fact book.

9. Nothing wrong with a little hands-on fun while you are learning! While studying Lincoln, use pretzel rods and a glue gun to build a log cabin.

10. Use a large laminated outline map to label and color in presidents' birthplaces.

11. If you enjoy using the Internet with your kids, see the sites below. Older students could even develop a nice treasure hunt for their siblings by writing questions that can be answered at specific sites.

Although one day is set aside each year, our students should spend more than one day on our presidents. Please, use Presidents' Day as a starting place. Your children deserve to learn about the rich heritage left by these great men.

What is Presidents' Day?

I took this information directly from the US Embassy Website:

Washington's Birthday - Third Monday in February
Until 1971, both February 12 and February 22 were observed as federal holidays to honor the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and George Washington (Feb. 22).

In 1971 President Richard Nixon proclaimed one single federal holiday, the Presidents' Day, to be observed on the third Monday of February, honoring all past presidents of the United States of America.
Please Note: The Federal statute designates this day as Washington's Birthday. President Nixon issued a proclamation declaring the holiday as "Presidents' Day" in 1971. President Nixon erroneously believed that a Presidential Proclamation on the matter carried the same weight as an Executive Order. Since that change in 1971, the common term has been "Presidents' Day."

Helpful Web sites

I went Web surfing and picked a few good sites from the gazillions out there. If you have time to search, you'll find many more.

PRESIDENTS
Your older students might find it interesting to read about the presidents serving before George Washington. Go to this website to read a short excerpt from George Grant's book The Patriot's Handbook.
http://capo.org/kmsc/presidnt.html

http://www.ipl.org/ref/POTUS/
The Internet Public Library is a Mega-everything site with many links about the presidents.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN
http://members.aol.com/RVSNorton/Lincoln2.html
I really enjoyed this site. Easy to navigate, nice photos and biographical info. If you only have time for one, go here. I especially liked the photos and information on his sons.

http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/
A nice, simple timeline with a few photos. Includes links to important events in Lincoln's life as well as links to primary source documents of his speeches, proclamations, personal letters, etc. Junior high and up.

http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Venue/5217/lincoln.html
For a quick and easy overview of Abe Lincoln. Elementary.

http://www.patriotism.org/presidents_day/page3.html
A short biography of Abraham Lincoln, using some of his own words.

GEORGE WASHINGTON
http://63.111.53.150/Almanack/people/washhdr.htm
Here you'll find Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation: a Book of Etiquette, as transcribed by sixteen-year-old George Washington around 1744 and much more.

http://www.patriotism.org/presidents_day/page4.html
A short biography of George Washington, using some of his own words.

http://www.mountvernon.org/
Beautiful site with color photographs throughout. Family.

http://www.travelsd.com/parks/rushmore/index.htm
Here's the site to use if you want to take a quick virtual field trip to Mt. Rushmore.

*This article first published February 4, 2002.


Maggie Hogan is a motivational speaker and co-author of The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide, Gifted Children at Home, and other resource books. She and her husband Bob have been home schooling their boys since 1991. Involved in local, state, and national home-schooling issues, they both serve on boards of home education organizations in Delaware. They are also owners of Bright Ideas Press (www.BrightIdeasPress.com), a home-school company dedicated to bringing the best practical, fun, and affordable materials to the home-school market.

Maggie's e-mail address is Hogan@BrightIdeasPress.com