Nearing the end of winter and cold, long days, the calendar approaches Presidents’ Day. The elementary classrooms are full of snow pants, boots, wet mittens, and even wet homework papers from damp backpacks. What an excellent time to study Washington and Lincoln, and turn a corner in the school year! These great leaders demonstrated perseverance, and they give us a chance to apply this idea in our classrooms as the calendar days march on and we persevere through the dreary end of winter. Washington and Lincoln exemplify strong values and character. This is an opportunity to discuss role models who are not always considered in today's world of video games and television. Presidents’ Day presents many other teachable moments as well. You can incorporate the holiday into your classroom by trying some of the following ideas.
• Compare/contrast the two Presidents using Venn Diagrams.
• Study character traits in non-fiction sources.
• Sequence historical dates.
• Infer: What is leadership? What does "Father of our country" mean?
• Discuss differences between long ago and modern life.
• Compare the two historical time periods of their presidencies. How were presidential elections different long ago?
• Make art projects to brighten up the elementary classroom, and take those wilting snowflakes down! Perhaps your students could make silhouettes of each President.
• Distinguish fact from myth in their lives.
• Consider and evaluate: Do the myths also help us? How? What do we learn? Why do those stories persist?
• Silently read the numerous fiction and non-fiction books about Washington and Lincoln available in many elementary school libraries, putting aside modern fiction and fantasy for awhile.
• Genre study: What is historical fiction? What non-fiction conventions do students notice in the reading?
• Don't forget a chance for an educational video or two and a little breathing room after the 100th Day, Valentine's Day, and helping children with boots and zippers. Whew!
• Lincoln studied by firelight and wrote on shovels. Washington had little formal schooling. What do today's students think is an educational hardship . . . having the Internet down? This is a chance for some great classroom discussion.
• General Washington led the war at Valley Forge, and was reluctant to become President, but he sacrificed self for country. Have the students had to make sacrifices?
More books have been written about Lincoln than any other human being (16,000). This gives us a hint of the importance of Presidents’ Day.
Many years ago, my kindergarten son asked me, "Was that the war with the rags on their feet or the one about slaves?" History through a child's eyes is fascinating, as elementary educators know.