Celebrate the national holiday with nonfiction reading, research projects, student activities, and more.
Presidential Poster Gallery
Creating a gallery of presidential profiles is a great way to begin learning about the presidency. Provide research-starters for your students such as Our Country's Presidents, by Ann Bausam, and Scholastic Encyclopedia of the Presidents, by David Rubel. Have each student choose a president and research his life to learn important facts such as birth date, home state, family members, work experience, accomplishments, and other interests. Then start your class on poster profiles of their presidents, asking them to record highlights of their research information and add drawings and pictures. After the children share their posters with the class, display them around your room for inspiration and reference during your presidential unit.
Home State Map
Our presidents have come from many different states from coast to coast. Assign each student to one or more of the 43 presidents to research their home states. Then have children fill out slips of paper that read: I am _______, the _______ president of the U.S. My home state is _______. Display a large map of the United States and ask your students to find and mark all the home states with the slips of paper, attaching each slip to the appropriate state on the map. Extend this activity by having your child "presidents" write label slips for themselves and attach these new slips to their choice of states.
Paper Bag Flags
What is Presidents' Day without flags and fanfare? Invite children to make these easy flags for this festive occasion. You will need one paper grocery bag with a handle for every two children. Have the children cut out the large panels of the grocery bag. They can use paint and craft materials to decorate the panel (handle to the left) to resemble an American flag or the presidential flag. Then invite students to wave their flags during the "Inauguration Day" activity.
The Chief's Checklist
The president wears many hats and has many responsibilities. Write each title for the president (e.g. Head of State, Commander-in-Chief) on a paper hat cutout and glue the hats to a large piece of chart paper. As the children learn more, ask them to record on the chart paper each new fact they learn about the president´s job. Here are examples:
- The president signs new laws.
- The president gives a radio address each week.
- The president meets with leaders
Chief Executive Ads
Now that your students have learned about the presidency, ask them to write classified ads for the position. Begin by sharing classified ads from the employment section of your newspaper. Then review the qualifications for the highest job in the land: The president must be at least 35 years old and a U.S.-born citizen who has lived in this country for at least 14 years. Along with these requirements, discuss and list other qualities that might be desired in a presidential candidate. Ideas might include professional skills such as the ability to budget money, lead the government, and command the military; and more personal traits, such as politeness and honesty. Afterward, you might also discuss the benefits of the presidency good pay, a large home, planes, the opportunity to make a difference, lots to learn, and so on. Invite children to read their ads aloud. Who wants to apply?
Holding an Inauguration Day ceremony is a great way to help children understand the honor and importance of the ceremony. When the president is sworn into office on Inauguration Day, he makes an oath, or promise, to do his very best to serve and protect the nation. Read the president´s oath to your class and show them the presidential seal a symbol of the president´s promise and responsibility. Then ask each child to write the promises that he or she would make to the nation as president. Have them fold their papers in thirds and decorate them with three-inch circles colored to resemble the presidential seal. Each student "president" should then recite the presidential oath and read his or her sealed promises.
"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Here Comes the Press!
With the title of president comes lots of attention, especially from the media. Appoint a president to stand in front of a group of reporters (students) equipped with pencils and paper. Display the chart from "The Chief's Checklist" nearby. Have the reporters refer to the chart to construct questions to ask the president. When recognized by the president, have reporters preface their questions with "Mr. (or Ms.) President." After a specified time, ask the president to end the press conference, then send the reporters to their desks to write their press releases.
Balancing the Budget
In addition to balancing many responsibilities, the President must also try to balance the national budget. Give your young Chiefs of Staff a list of budget items, such as education, health care, and defense. Then specify a dollar amount to be spent on the entire budget (this amount will vary according to the students' ability levels). Ask your presidents to decide how much of the total will be allocated to each item. After completing their allocations, instruct them to add all the figures to make sure the budget is balanced. As students share and compare their budgets, ask them to explain and defend their allocations for each category.
White House Menagerie
Throughout American history, many presidential families have kept pets large and small at the White House, including a kangaroo rat, a raccoon, a goat, a pony, a cow, and even a black bear! What pets would your student "presidents" like to keep at the White House? How do pets help make a house (even the White House) a home? Invite children to draw pets that they might take with them to live in the White House. Have them name and describe their pets and then write about the characteristics that make their pets unique and special. Display student work on a bulletin board.
My Guide to the White House
Each of your pretend presidents has the imaginary privilege of living in the White House. On the White House website, you can point out many of the famous rooms in this presidential home, such as the Oval Office, the Lincoln Bedroom, as well as the Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow Oval rooms. Have children research the history and use of these historically important rooms, then invite them to make their own White House book. In their books, students can illustrate a different White House room on each page and describe how the rooms would be used during their presidencies. To make the White House books:
- Take eight sheets of 5" x 6" paper for each student, and staple the sheets along the left edge.
- Give each child a copy of the White House reproducible, below. Ask children to cut it out, following the thick black lines.
- Ask each child to glue the cutout to a sheet of construction paper, inserting the stapled pages behind the flap.
- Give each student a sandwich-pick flag to tape on the White House roof!
Fun facts: Today's White House has 6 floors, 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 412 doors, 147 windows, 8 staircases, 3 elevators, and 12 chimneys.
Oval Office Memoirs
Like others before them, your pretend presidents have been quite busy with meetings, phone conferences, travel, entertaining, and other official and personal duties. But now that the term is coming to an end, it's time to record the many memories collected while in office. Ask children to refer to the chart from "The Chief's Checklist" to review the responsibilities of the president. Then have them write and illustrate memories about their imaginary experiences as president. Encourage students to incorporate their new knowledge and to use their imaginations! Bind each child's pages into a booklet titled "My Oval Office Memoirs." You might want to hold a special presidential luncheon during which children read aloud their memoirs and say good-bye to the job!
- So You Want to be President? by Judith St. George (Penguin, 2000)
- If I Were President: Kids Talk About Running the Country by Bill Adler (Morrow, 2000)
- It Happened in the White House by Kathleen Karr (Hyperion Press, 2000)
- Hail to the Chief: The American Presidency by Don Robb (Charlesbridge, 2000)
- The Presidents of the United States
- World Almanac for Kids
- Scholastic's U.S. Presidents Research Tools
About the Author
Mackie Rhodes is an education writer based in Greensboro, N.C. Her most recent professional books are Teaching With Favorite Back-to-School Books (Scholastic, 2004) and Teaching About Winter Holidays with Favorite Picture Books (Scholastic, 2003). Illustrations by Patrick Girouard. This article was originally published in the January/February 2004 issue of Instructor.