Presidents’ Day is often associated with closed banks, interest-free financing on furniture, and excellent lease terms for well-qualified car buyers. But for teachers, it’s a great opportunity to kick those American history lesson plans up a notch with a few Presidents’ Day activities.
Presidents’ Day became a holiday in the late 1800s to honor George Washington, whose actual birthday is February 2. But since Abraham Lincoln was born in February as well (are we sensing a pattern here?), we came to understand the day to honor former both leaders.
For educators, Presidents’ Day is a great opportunity to celebrate everything POTUS. Use the activities listed below or let them inspire you to create your own presidential lessons.
1. First and foremost … be responsible
When Presidents’ Day rolls around, it’s easy to reach for a standby lesson plan on Abe Lincoln’s log cabin. But the holiday also presents an opportunity to go deeper and examine the traditional narratives surrounding past presidents. We know that presidents were not infallible historical characters, so here are some ways to keep it more honest for our students.
2. Watch how the American president came to be
How did Presidents’ Day evolve, and really, why do we even have a president, anyway? This fascinating TedED video for elementary school kids breaks it down. Go inside one of the biggest debates in American history: how our founding fathers settled on the leader of the executive branch.
3. Put on a Presidents’ Day puppet show
How adorable are these guys? Younger students will love acting out some of the presidential facts they’ve learned with these finger-puppet presidents! Use quarters (Washington) and pennies (Lincoln) to celebrate the birthday boys. You can add in other coins for more presidential fun.
4. Read our picks for great presidential books for the classroom
Honor all things POTUS with these 22 awesome reads for your classroom . This clever list engages readers from pre-K through middle school with presidential facts, history, and Presidents’ Day fun.
5. Write letters to the current president
Nothing shows our democracy in action better than writing a letter to the commander in chief. During a class discussion, have students share what matters most to them. Encourage students to ask their questions and share their big ideas in their letters. Here’s the address:
The President of the USA (or write the president’s name)
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500
6. Celebrate with a Presidents’ Day trivia game
Students will love a presidential trivia game. Online resources abound for them to fact hunt and nail down some great Q&A options for elementary grades. Print out some fact sheets to send home to study. Older students can fact-find in teams and challenge the opposing students for game day. The White House Historical Society has great thought-starters on presidents, first ladies, and even their beloved pets. Which First Lady was the first to decorate the White House for Halloween? Why did President Woodrow Wilson keep a flock of sheep on the White House lawn? You might have trouble deciding which fun facts are the coolest!
Break out those quarters and pennies again (add in nickels, dimes, and half-dollars, too)! Science mixed with history makes this coin experiment fun to do in small groups. The students can predict, record, and chart their findings. Did they guess correctly? What’s the science behind this coin trick? Find more Presidents’ Day coin activity details here.
8. Watch one (or 12!) Presidents’ Day videos
These Presidents’ Day videos cover the history of the day, plus lots of fun and interesting facts about each of our presidents. Use them as a lead-in to some of these other Presidents’ Day activities!
9. Go on a presidential scavenger hunt
Send your students on this super cool online Presidents’ Day scavenger hunt. Solve clues to track down American presidential facts. Download the scavenger hunt printable and start exploring!
10. Encourage presidential hopefuls
What makes someone a good leader? What would your students do if they held the highest office in the land? We love how blogger Kindergarten Smiles had her kids do individual portrait art and answer the question What would make you a great president? Log the results or create an anchor chart to serve as a reminder to students about the value of good leadership qualities. It’s the lesson that lasts a school year and beyond.
11. Brush up on (or learn about) the Electoral College
Help students understand how a president gets elected by introducing them to the Electoral College. Share the history behind the College, why it exists, and which states have the most—or fewest—electoral votes. Be sure to discuss times when a candidate has won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote. It would be a great springboard for older students to discuss whether the Electoral College should be part of the process of electing a president. Expand on the topic of election with our top teacher books about elections and election videos for kids.
12. Virginia is for lovers—and presidents
Do your students know that Virginia has produced more US presidents than any other state? Save and print these images of the US presidents and cut them out. Then as a class or in small groups, place those images in the president’s home state. As an added twist, make multiple copies of the images and plot the presidents both in the state they are most often associated with and where they were born. (For example, Barack Obama would be placed in both Illinois and Hawaii, and Andrew Jackson would be placed in both South Carolina and Tennessee.)
You might also play a different sort of matching game: List all 50 states and the year they joined the union as well as presidents Washington–Eisenhower the years of term(s). Challenge students to identify who was president when the state(s) joined the union.
13. Explore Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is one of the most iconic monuments in the United States, and The National Park Service has excellent resources that help students understand everything that went into creating the work. Their curriculum covers geology, math, history, visual arts, and more. As an added challenge, discuss with your class which presidents they’d put on Mount Rushmore and why. Be sure to mention the Lakota Sioux tribe and why the site of Mount Rushmore is so sacred to them.
14. Engage in the art of the campaign
Yes we can. I like Ike. All the way with LBJ. Slogans and campaign art are sometimes the most memorable aspects of a presidential campaign. Check out a slideshow of some of the best campaign art over the years and share the images with your class. Then encourage students to make their own slogan and accompanying art—they can reinterpret an existing one, create art for an imaginary candidate, or create art for their own (future) presidential campaign.
15. Examine the art of speechmaking
We often remember presidents not simply by what they did but what they said: Washington’s Farewell Address, The Gettysburg Address, FDR’s fireside chats. There are many speeches that you might share with your class. You might compare speeches, discuss the art of the persuasive speech, or talk about what makes a speech good or bad.