Cherry trees and log cabins. The Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. Most kids can rattle off a few facts about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Trouble is some of what they know isn't actually true. And the information they do have right may not seem relevant to their 21st century lives.
Want to help your children connect past and present? Use these fun facts and activities to jump-start a family dialogue about the legacies of these two influential Americans.
Does This Beard Make Me Look Fat?
Eleven-year-old Grace Bedell wrote to Lincoln a few weeks before he became President to suggest he grow a beard.
Talk about it – Why do you think Grace wanted Lincoln to grow a beard? Would you ever grow a beard? What other famous men have beards? How does physical appearance affect a person's life? What public image do you want to project?
Everybody Loved George!
At the time Washington was elected, there was no popular vote for president. Votes were cast by the 69 members of the electoral college with one vote per elector. Washington is the only U.S. president in history to have been unanimously elected.
Talk about it – Why do you think Washington was so popular? How do you think Washington felt when he learned he'd received all the votes? Is it good for a leader to have no opponents?
George Goes Green!
Before he joined the military, Washington was an innovative farmer who experimented with different crops, crop rotation and fertilizers.
Talk about it – Do you think George's agricultural skills helped him as President? Why? Which qualities and skills are most important for a leader to have? Why? What qualities and skills does a modern President need to have that Washington didn't need?
Get Your Hands Off Me!
The hands depicted in the famous statue at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall are not actually those of the President, but those of the sculptor Daniel Chester French. Although French studied casts made of Lincoln's hands when he was alive, he did not use them as models because the fists were clenched. Instead, he cast his own hands and used them.
Talk about it – In creating the statue of Lincoln, the sculptor took some artistic liberties. Is this kind of "fudging" okay? Why or why not? How do you feel when you look at the Lincoln statue?
Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?
Washington's birthday was declared a federal holiday in 1885. In 1968, when Congress enacted the "Monday Holiday Law," Washington's Birthday was moved to the third Monday in February. But ever since President Nixon referred to the holiday as "Presidents' Day", people have mistakenly believed that the day was designated to honor Lincoln too. Officially, however, the holiday has never changed.
Talk about it – What other world leaders should be honored? Why? If you were in Congress, what new national holiday would you propose? Why? On what date would it be celebrated?
Justine Ickes is a freelance writer and mom to two boys. She blogs as the Cross-cultural Mom at www.travelingmom.com.