Presidents’ Day may have been established in 1885 to recognize the birthday of America’s first President, but most American families these days associate the holiday with a break from school and a chance to sleep late on a cold, winter Monday.
This Presidents’ Day weekend, we’re offering up a challenge to fellow parents of young children: how about using Washington’s birthday as an opportunity to talk history with our kids?
As the creators of Homer, the learning app for young children, we often get asked by moms, “When is the right time to introduce history to my child?” It’s understandable that many parents are afraid to tackle the big questions that some historical topics raise - especially when our children are still little. We’re not suggesting you spend this weekend digging into the Federalist Papers with your five-year-old, but there are reasons to introduce history early and often in the conversations you’re having with your child.
In putting together our talking-history-tip-list for parents, we decided to check in with Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian, Jon Meacham, author of presidential biographies of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, and George H. W. Bush. We were curious to know how he’d answer the question: what do the youngest children get from an early exposure to history? Here are his top three answers (full disclosure: Meacham is married to the author of this article):
- Some of the most compelling stories a child will ever hear are those that actually happened.
- Many of the conversations children will engage in as they get older, and much of the literature they will read, is grounded in history. Having a deep exposure to history gives kids context that is critical to becoming a discerning reader.
- Learning that ordinary people can do great things is inspirational and character-shaping.
This Presidents’ Day, we’ve got the following tips for you and your child. We hope they will help you to bring history alive for your child, help you teach critical thinking skills and begin building a base of knowledge that will open up new doors to learning for your child:
- Start your Monday off with a little patriotic music while making pancakes and having breakfast together as a family. Ask your child to pay careful attention to the words of the National Anthem (baseball fans will recognize the tune immediately). Tell the story behind the song and draw a picture of the American Flag.
- Visit our friends at National Geographic Kids and read all about Presidential Fun Facts. Play a true or false game: True or False? Abraham Lincoln was our tallest President? True or False? George Washington had wooden teeth.
- Visit your local library or bookstore and check out A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women by former Second Lady, Lynne Cheney. Read the book together and talk about the important roles that women have played in history, even though our Presidents have been men.
- Check out Schoolhouse Rock’s musical version of the Preamble to the Constitution and sing along. Parents who grew up in the 1970s will recognize the music and lyrics, and kids will appreciate this fun, easy way to memorize one of our most memorable pieces of national literature.
Happy President’s Day. May your weekend make history!