Today my friend Elizabeth, who has an active interest in politics and history, will be sharing about the history of President’s Day and ideas for teaching young children about our country’s presidents. When she’s not busy running after her two small children or making quilts, Liz writes on her blog, Because Hope, Wonder, and Glory Abound. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Liz!
We showed our son a $50 bill one day and asked who was on it. “Pop-Pop Walt” was his reply. Yes, it is true. Pop-Pop Walt does look a little like Ulysses S. Grant. This got me thinking, how do I begin to teach an almost 3 year old who or what a president is? I had resigned to wait until next year to tackle this until… MaryAnn asked if I would be interested in writing about President’s Day.
I am pretty sure she was thinking I would be a good one for the job because once upon a time I did a lot of typing for a book called George Washington’s Sacred Fire. A highly recommended book for adults, but for most small children it’s more suited as a step stool or a booster seat!
So where should I start? Googling: Why is President’s Day important? Low and behold, technically “President’s Day” isn’t really an official Federal holiday. Federally speaking “Washington’s Birthday” is celebrated on the 3rd Monday of February. If your calendar says “President’s Day”, the calendar publisher is operating under the popular misconception that we are celebrating all Presidents, though some states have opted to do just that. So, depending on your state or preference, you can celebrate George Washington, Washington and Lincoln (both born in February and commonly linked together), or all presidents.
When you think about it, this is a fine example of why it is important to celebrate (and Google) these days and ask ourselves the question: why is this day important? Over time, historical facts get blurred with foggy memories. Before you know it, you have lost information that really is important. History is important to remember so you know when someone is trying to change it or when it’s being repeated (and not in a good way).
Whether you choose to be a purist and focus only on the Father of our Nation –George Washington- or pull from the rich wisdom, character and history of all our presidents, you may want to reflect on what makes a good president, or at least what should. So, I go back to Pop-Pop Walt and say a president should be like good old dad. He should be a role model who demonstrates, or demonstrated valor, sacrifice, integrity, bravery, and honesty. Not all presidents in our history completely measure(d) up to these characteristics and we shouldn’t be afraid to say why a president got it wrong. “He didn’t model the behaviors we think are important because….” However, maybe that should be a lesson for a different day. On “Presidents Day” we want to remember the ones who offered fatherly advice, inspiring wisdom, and a challenge to be a great American.
“Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”
“Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.”
John Quincy Adams
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
“Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.”
“Above all, tell the truth.”
John F. Kennedy
“And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”
With a quick search, you will find a craft, recipe, or project to help make Presidents Day a little more tangible for your kids, however you choose to celebrate it. Since my son has taken an interest in putting money in his piggy bank, I think we will take a careful look at coins and the dollar bill and I’ll point out the presidents on each and see if he can say, “Abraham Lincoln” because I don’t currently have a “Ulysses S. Grant!”
The boys and I learned about some of our presidents this weekend by doing some reading. The two in the photo are by David Adler. I also found a free mini-book download here, so the boys enjoyed coloring little booklets about George Washington and Abe Lincoln.
During a car ride my son also enjoyed reading to us from So You Want to be the President, a funny book containing facts about many of our country’s past presidents (available here). One more activity I’ve got lined up – washing coins in water, vinegar, and baking soda. I think the boys will enjoy making them nice and shiny, and we can take a look to see who’s on them as well! These George Washingtons are cute too!
Happy President’s Day!