Presidents’ Day in K-2

By Naomi O'Brien

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How is Presidents’ Day Usually Taught?

Click on any image to see the resource.

When a National holiday such as Presidents’ Day comes around, as teachers, we usually teach a
familiar routine: Who was the person? Why was he great? What did he do? (Notice how we can
use the “he” and not blink an eye…where are the others? We digress…) Anyways, time to move
on. Who has any more time than that? Plus, how would we even begin talking about enslavement with
5 and 6 year-olds!?


When we think back to learning or teaching this day, all we remember is that George Washington
chopped down a cherry tree and was honest enough to confess. He was a war hero and our first
president. Wow! He was so brave! Lincoln? Well, he was pretty awesome too! He abolished
slavery and then was assassinated. That sucks! Both men had such impeccable moral character,
they always did what was right. We should too!
Does this sound familiar? But how do we even begin to tackle Presidents’ Day in K-2?


We know this is not the whole picture of either president. We want to teach honest and inclusive history. We talk more about that here. We know people are generally not all good or all bad. These generalities that we present to our students paint the men as a character of a singular nature- honest and full of
integrity, PERIOD. No flaws. No complications. Perfect.
But…were they?

Promote Critical Thinking

Showcasing these two presidents in this light allows no room for students to take learning and thinking into their own hands. They are left as passive recipients of information. They are not given the space to grapple with questions such as:

-Where do national holidays come from and are they worth having?

-How do we decide who gets an honorable mention? Are these people perfect? What happens when they have major character flaws?

-We have had 46 presidents, why did we pick these two? Would you pick someone else?

-Are people who do good along with bad still worthy of admiration?

Questions like this can push our students to think critically.

These are some deep questions, and make no mistake, one our youngest learners can grapple with. Equipped with thinking like this, we would hope they would grow up to be adults who would see the problem with Robert E. Lee or Christopher Columbus monuments. They could evaluate what monuments mean and what the back history is to them. These seemingly small conversations have big implications down the road.

So, how do we accomplish this seemingly huge task?

We present them with the information! We have lively debates! We write all about our opinions and vote. We even share our thoughts with our elected officials.

So, How Do We Teach Presidents’ Day K-2?

We created our own eBook and printables after realizing we weren’t going to get the full picture from any textbook companies. To teach Presidents’ Day in K-2, we did a lot of research and planned powerful discussion questions. We know our students, so we make sure to make it age appropriate.

 We also:
-explore the origins and intentions of this holiday.
-share different ways we honor noteworthy people.
– build the students’ critical thinking and evaluation muscles.
-want them to see full people.
 
This looks like acknowledging that yes, Washington did lead the army to victory. Yes, he was our first president who helped us on our way. BUT, he was also an enslaver since he was 10. Yes, he freed his own enslaved people, BUT, not until he and his wife died. What do we think of this? We let the kids decide. We don’t do the thinking for them.
 
Lincoln on the other hand, did free the enslaved people, he did write the Emancipation Proclamation, but his reasons were not as pristine as we would like to think. He actually believed that while the institution of slavery was morally wrong, he did not think Black people to be equal to White people. He wanted to find a way to send the people back to Africa in a new country called Liberia or Central America.
 
Do we still have a perfect perception of these men? Should we honor them? What do we think? We let the kids decide….literally! We have a vote.
 
If this sounds like a way you would like to teach, check out our ready made resource. We have created a Presidents’ Day resource with K-2 in mind. We have note taking worksheets, writing opportunities, vocabulary pages, and more.

Click on any image to see the resource.

Naomi

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Hi, I'm Naomi

I have been teaching elementary students for over 10 years. Effective reading instruction and accurate social studies at the primary level are huge passions of mine! 

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One Response

  1. I too had only thought about George Washington as the first president and him cutting down the cherry tree. I also did not know about Lincoln and the timing of the freedom of his slaves. I LOVE how you discuss how our students are ready (and need) information. Giving our students, even though they are young, information allows them to learn to think and use the information to make their own decisions. The questions that you pose about whether or not we should honor them really gets me thinking. I like how you handle it by allowing the kids to vote! This is what our country is built on… voting power too! Thank you for your wonderful resource.

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