by David A. Adler (Holiday House, 1988)
This book is among a series of "first biographies" by the author. It recounts the life of George Washington from his boyhood through his presidency. The book portrays Washington as a man who fought for freedom while rejecting both power and wealth.
Exploring the Theme of Leadership
George Washington spent most of his life leading others. Ask: What does it mean to be a leader? Do leaders always need followers? Why or why not? (Have children offer examples from their own lives when they've been called on to lead others — perhaps they've been expected to show a good example for siblings.) What are the best parts about being a leader? What are some difficult parts? Have children explain why Washington was different from the leaders (i.e. royalty) he was used to following.
If I Ran for the Presidency
George Washington was elected our first president because people believed he was a good problem solver. Have children imagine they want to be elected President of the United States. What would their responsibilities and powers be as president? Have the class brainstorm problems to be addressed in the country, record responses on the board, and then have each child copy the list according to his or her personal priorities. Then, have students write campaign speeches designed to win voter support based on their proposed solutions to the problems.
Follow the Leaders
Discuss with the class why good leaders are important. Help them to understand that "following a leader" can mean many things from following specific advice to trying to copy a role model. Have children think of leaders they know in their own lives and write them down. The list should include famous figures as well as leaders from their personal lives. Remind children that their lists will vary because we each have special people we choose to follow. Then have students brainstorm the qualities a good leader needs, such as intelligence, fairness, gentility, dependability, likability, strength, sensitivity, etc. You may need to label the qualities children describe. (When thinking of qualities, it may help students to think of special talents and traits their own leaders have in common.)
Have each child choose one leader from the list and describe why that person is particularly important or influential in his or her life. Finally, invite children to tell of a time when they led others. How did it feel to be a leader? Encourage students to explain why they think it's more fun to be a leader or a follower.