Every year, we celebrate George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays and their contributions to America. Here's how to put a fun, numerical twist on Presidents' Day.
THE STORY BEHIND THE NUMBER: After presiding over the Constitutional Convention, George Washington, a farmer and army general, was elected the first president of the United States of America. He took oath on April 30, 1789, and served two terms before retiring to farm his plantation, Mount Vernon.
HOW TO CELEBRATE: George Washington loved farming. His main crop was wheat, so invite students to grow their own. Cover about 100 seeds (sometimes called wheat kernels) in water and soak them overnight. Next, drain the seeds and place them on a folded paper towel that's been placed on top of a paper plate. Each day, have the children sprinkle the seeds with water to keep them moist. After a few days, they should begin to sprout. When the sprouts are about 3/4 inch, have the students plant them in individual containers and observe and record their growth.
THE STORY BEHIND THE NUMBER: The Washington Monument is one of the most recognizable monuments in the world. At just over 555 feet high, the obelisk-shaped monument is the tallest building in Washington, D.C. It takes 70 seconds for its elevator to travel from the ground floor to the observation level. Fifty flags, representing our 50 states, surround the monument's base.
HOW TO CELEBRATE: Have students practice counting and measuring by creating their own Washington Monument model. First, provide them with a rectangular block of florist foam or Styrofoam and a plastic knife. Have students use the knife to carve an obelisk, about 12 inches high, out of the foam. Paint the obelisk white using tempera paint. Once it's dry, have students glue the monument to the center of a paper plate. Next, have them make miniature flags using toothpicks and flag stickers. Secure the flags around the edge of the plate using small bits of modeling clay.
6 FEET 4 INCHES
THE STORY BEHIND THE NUMBER: Abraham Lincoln was one of the nation's greatest presidents, and at 6'4" he was also the tallest. At the museum in Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., there is a life-sized silhouette of Lincoln so visitors can see how they size up next to our 16th president.
HOW TO CELEBRATE: Students can practice measuring by creating their own Lincoln silhouette display. First, create a Lincoln silhouette on a large piece of paper by drawing a 6'4" figure by freehand. (You might also ask a tall staff member or classroom dad to volunteer to let themselves be traced.) Cut out the silhouette and tape it onto a low-traffic area of the classroom floor. Next, have students find a partner. Students in each pair should take turns lying beside "Lincoln" while their partner uses a yardstick to measure how much shorter they are than Lincoln. (Laying the silhouette on the floor instead of a wall prevents children from having to stand on chairs to take measurements.) Then, consider making a display in the hallway so other students can see how they measure up.
11 YEARS OLD
THE STORY BEHIND THE NUMBER: Grace Bedell was 11 years old when she wrote President Lincoln to suggest that he grow a beard. As later presidential portraits show, Lincoln took her advice.
HOW TO CELEBRATE: Students can practice persuasive writing and build a sense of community by creating a Class Suggestion Box. Cover a shoebox with decorative paper, cut a hole in the top, and set it in the writing center. Provide students with note cards or slips of paper. Ask them to finish these two sentences: "I think we should _____." and "I think we should do this because _____." At the end of the week, read and discuss the suggestions as a group and decide if any of them can be implemented.
THE STORY BEHIND THE NUMBER: George Washington began writing when he was a teenager and didn't stop until the day before his death at age 67. Washington was a prolific writer whose private journal entries and official documents fill volumes. His letters alone number more than a staggering 20,000.
HOW TO CELEBRATE: Remind students that sending a letter was the only way to communicate over long distances in George Washington's time. Display a sample letter and then create a letter-writing center where students can compose their own notes. Provide a variety of materials, such as stickers, stamps, pens and markers, paper of various colors and textures, recycled greeting cards, and envelopes. Encourage students to design their own stationary. Set up a mailbox system or allow students to take turns being the class mail carrier.
Carmella Van Vleet is a former teacher and the author of Amazing Ben Franklin Inventions You Can Build Yourself (Nomad Press, 2007).