A History Lesson: 5 Modern Ideas for teaching our Children about President’s Day

President’s Day, or the 3rd Monday in February, has been set aside as a national holiday for most all of our lives. This day, meant to celebrate the birth, lives, and sacrifices of the incredible men who have led this great country, has turned into nothing more than a commercialized shopping day with sales on everything from cars to home appliances. Like many American holidays lost to sales and school closures, gone is the meaning of the day. It is unlikely the majority of Americans can even tell you what this day is about, much less why or when it was contrived.

As we enter into a new year with a new president after one of the most tumultuous and disheartening election years, there can be no more important time than now to teach our children the importance of this day. Regardless of where you cast your vote or how you felt the day after the election, the United States is on a new and uncertain path as President Donald Trump, a businessman and television personality, is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America.

Many of the problems our president will face are not our president’s problems or of his creation; they are problems created by our modern society where we interact on social media but not in real-life, where so many of us are out of touch with our fellow mankind’s experiences. These are not the days of celebrating a president and war hero’s birthday in newly colonized towns and villages where we share principles, meals, and ideas. In this modern day, that president of old would never recognize this divided nation.

The past few years have been difficult in terms of defining the morals and values of these United States. For many of us parents today, the 80’s and 90’s of our childhood seemed so much simpler than these troubled times of war, hate crimes, and distrust among citizens of every race and color. However, it is likely we were simply protected from it by our parents much like we shelter our children from these harsh realities today.

If there was one thing to be learned by this last election where hate and animosity found a comfortable place amongst friends, it is that we as a great nation need to come together. We need to return to our roots, we need to embrace one another, we need to educate, empower, and LOVE our fellow men, women, and children. We need to remember the meaning of “one nation under God” and “with liberty and justice for all.”

As parents, we need to start teaching our young children the history and ideals behind this country we all call home, for everything we have and all the benefits we enjoy came at a price. So bring on the history lessons with a few fun ways to celebrate President’s Day with the kids.

1. Take Your Children to the Library.

Most public libraries begin gearing up for President’s Day immediately following Martin Luther King, Jr. Day around the end of January. By the beginning of February at least, there will likely be a special section set up with books for children of all ages about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and many more of our influential past presidents. Check your local library for scheduled story times, puppet shows, or even short plays about past presidents.

Select age appropriate children’s books to read with your little ones about the past presidents, the times in which they lived, their major accomplishments, and how they contributed to our world today. Most children know very little about our founding fathers, the Declaration of Independence, or how and why we as a country gained our freedom so long ago. Our children are like little sponges, and although this may seem far away from their lives of Dora the Explorer and Paw Patrol, this will begin to give them even a slight interest in our nation’s history. The idea that our history would not be interesting to our children or does not matter is the wrong approach.

We are what we have come from, and as most people know, history has a tendency to repeat itself, so let’s begin the learning process with our little ones. Most of the children’s books tell these stories in a “sing-song” fashion that will appeal to even the littlest listeners.

2. Plan a trip to a History Museum.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a city with a history museum or possibly even a wax museum (Disney World Orlando has the Hall of Presidents), consider taking your pre-school or school-aged child for a visit. History museums usually have sections for adults and children, so your littles ones may get to experience hands-on, educational activities at the museum about our past leaders.

Children will be interested to learn the facts about our past presidents and will likely be entertained by stories of their valor and bravery. Many history museums either keep a regular section regarding American History that includes our past presidents, or set up special exhibitions around this holiday. Spend time with your child learning about the formation of our United States Constitution, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Gettysburg Address. As citizens of this great nation we need to begin educating our children early in our history so that as they grow up they have the opportunity to become intelligent, engaged, and involved members of our American society.

3. Visit a National Park or Monument.

Philadelphia, Washington D.C., or South Dakota may be ideal for visiting national parks or monuments, but virtually all states, and likely a city near you, will have a national park or monument dedicated to one of our past presidents. These national landmarks usually provide plenty of interesting information about our founding fathers and the paths they took to lead this great nation. These open air, usually outdoor environments are great day trips for the kids where you can pack a lunch, enjoy a day in the sunshine, and learn a bit about history in the process. These are great locations for the whole family to visit because the older children can receive a bit of a history lesson while the younger children can run around outdoors.

Many of these monuments may even have interactive shows going on throughout the day to celebrate the holiday with re-enactments of the Civil War, canon firings, or other historical/presidential events.

4. Make a craft or building project.

We all know our toddlers and preschoolers love arts and crafts, so in celebration of this historic day, prepare a presidential project to be completed by your kiddos large and small. Pick a president, a project, and a storybook, and you’ll have a morning full of fun and history all in one.

Check out a book from the local library on the legend of George Washington and the Cherry Tree and have your child create a cherry tree. Collect small sticks from the yard and with your help, allow your child to glue them onto a piece of cardboard in the shape of a trunk and branches. After that, allow your child to finger paint red and pink cherry blossoms all over his tree. Finally read the story and give your child an engaging and entertaining history lesson.

Grab a box of Lincoln Logs and build yourself a cabin. Abe Lincoln was said to grow up in a cabin in Kentucky where his love of books and learning turned him into a well-versed lawyer and statesman before becoming the 16th president of the United States. Depending on the age of your child, grab a storybook about this heroic icon and read up on his upbringing, presidency, abolishment of slavery, and famous Gettysburg Address.

5. Write a Letter to the President.

If you have an older elementary age or even middle school child, consider writing a letter to the President. This is a wonderful way to practice your child’s penmanship skills while teaching them to make their voice heard. We need to teach our children to be active members of our democracy. All of us should participate in this great nation our past presidents fought so hard to establish and maintain. Our children need to learn that this life did not come free, there were sacrifices that had to be made, work that had to be done, and people that had to get involved.

Teach your children to stand up for what they believe in and be an active part of their schools, our neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, and government. If your child thinks the president is doing a great job, tell him that. If your child thinks there are things that should be changed, large or small, teach him or her to voice that opinion without fear of reprisal. Allow your child to express his or her opinion to the White House in a polite and respectful manner.

Then, allow your child to address their envelope and mail their letter to: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500. In a few weeks, he or she will get a return letter which is a neat keepsake for any child.

Our children are always learning, so make learning fun! History can come to life for our little ones in so many ways, and although we may think they’re too young or they won’t remember, they will. Maybe they won’t think about the cherry tree they made or the Abe Lincoln paper plate face mask for many years to come, but when they are in high school and completing a history project they just might remember a bit of information imparted to them from a storybook so long ago. Or when they have to compete in the social studies fair they might just include their letter from The White House and remember that they have a voice!

Too many Americans have sat back too comfortably for too long allowing social injustices, political corruption, and unequal representation to abound. The problem in this country is not our government, it is that we as a people have become complacent. We have stopped educating our children about societal issues. We are quick to jump on social media and snap, hashtag, tweet, or share all the wrongs we perceive, but we are not out there leading grassroots movements at local levels to love our neighbors, participate in our schools, and drive our political leaders to be better, stronger, and more accountable.

If we want our world to be a better place we need to look where we lie… we need to educate and inform our children of what was, what is, and what will become, because THEY ARE OUR FUTURE LEADERS, OUR FUTURE VOTERS, OUR FUTURE PRESIDENTS.

For some more ideas on teaching your children about our government, check out Introducing Your Kids to Politics.

Photo Credits: Kristin dePaula, Kristen D., Pixabay

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Kristin Depaula

Kristin is a native Floridian who loves warm weather and sunshine but owns too many scarves and boots. She lives at the World’s Most Famous Beach with her husband, 3 boys and enough animals both warm and cold blooded to make up a zoo. She is a practicing attorney who spends her days working with at-risk and delinquent youth and her nights being a Montessori Mama to her independent, strong willed little humans. On the weekends you can find her at soccer games, chasing her boys at the Beach or cooking for her husband who suffers from Crohn’s disease but is healing with a healthy diet. In her free time, Kristin loves reading and laying by the pool.

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