How to study the U.S. Presidents (on a budget, naturally)

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Last year, we studied the U.S. Presidents from start to finish. I managed to include all four kids in the process, despite the large-ish age range they represent, which is always nice.

And who am I kidding? I included myself in the process as well, and I learned things about the presidents that I never knew before (heck, I hardly knew OF some of these presidents until last year.)

The Books

Like our study of the 50 U.S. States, I took sort of a DIY approach to this topic, choosing to mostly use non-textbook books.

Why?

Because textbooks are almost always really boring.

We do use them some in our homeschooling, of course, but when possible, I try to instead choose material that’s engaging and interesting.

Because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to easily find interesting books about every single president (cough * William Henry Harrison * cough), I kept one comprehensive presidential book on hand. We used one published by National Geographic, and I thought it was quite good.

So, that was our fallback book, but for the more famous presidents, I found children’s biographies at the library with little effort. Some library biographies are boring, of course, but for well-known presidents like George Washington or John Adams, there were multiple books to choose from.

If you’ve ready my past homeschooling posts, you know that I’m a huge fan of Mike Venezia’s work, so it will not surprise you to learn that I bought some of his books for our study. My library had only a few (boo!), but I was able to snag a fair number of the presidential series books on half.com.

(The nice thing about buying used books is that when you’re done with them, you can sell them right back and recoup most of your money!)

Venezia’s books are unfailingly interesting, and his illustrations always make my children laugh. I highly recommend anything written by him.

The Method

We went through the presidents in chronological order (duh!). For each president, I first read the biography out loud to all of the kids.

We’ve found that it works well to do this around a mealtime, since everyone’s in the same place, and no one is in the middle of working on another subject.

Depending on how long the biography was, sometimes we took several days to finish. But then on the other hand, when we read about William Henry Harrison, who was president for a mere 32 days, we finished in a single day (there’s not a lot to write about his presidency!)

For some of the most famous presidents (Washington, Lincoln), we read several books both because there are so many good ones available and because remembering facts about them is a little more important than remembering facts about, say, Millard Fillmore.

After we finished the biography, the kids each drew or colored a picture of the president, and wrote down a list of things they remembered about the president.

Actually, we started out hand-drawing all of the presidents (here’s Zoe’s Martin Van Buren. His facial hair clearly piqued her interest.)

But after too many drawing sessions ended in tears (“This doesn’t look at all like President X, Mommy!”) we switched to printable coloring sheets.

And then everyone was happier.

Zoe and Joshua turned their coloring pages over, traced the portraits, and then colored them in. So, their pages make it look like they have pretty impressive drawing skills.

Joshua’s pretty skilled at drawing, but he wouldn’t be able to turn out something quite this good without tracing. ;)

Also, every day, each of the kids practiced reciting the presidents out loud. We started this after we had a few presidents under our belts, and added each successive president after reading about him.

This was easier for some of my kids than others (Lisey was GREAT at it.), but they all memorized the whole list of presidents by the end of the school year and so did I.

When they got stuck on a president, I prompted them with a tidbit to jog their memories. For instance if they couldn’t remember Warren G. Harding, I’d say that he was one of the most corrupt presidents we ever had. For James K. Polk, I’d maybe say that he was the president who acquired lots of land for the U.S. This helped them get through the spot where they were stuck and also served as a bit of a review.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention that near the end of the year, one of Mr. FG’s friends gave us some educational DVDs about the presidents. They’re The American Presidents series from Disney (who knew??)

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but these videos were GREAT! My kids found them to be entertaining and funny, and they were an excellent review of the presidents we’d already studied.

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Joshua’s 365 post: Macro Pictures, Day 2

Comments

  1. says

    Loving the artwork! I adore the homeschool posts, because I don’t homeschool therefore like extra ideas on how to support my kids with their curriculum.
    Over here (UK) we don’t study the presidents in such detail. But we do, do a lot of history. In fact my 7-year-old came home on Wednesday proclaiming “Mom, you’ll love the homework we’ve been set!”. Now that either means a) I’m a supportive Mom who shows interest and assists, or b) I take over? haha! (I did once decoupage a scaled model of Chichen Itza late one Sunday night).
    I digress….the homework – it’s make a Roman shield…
    As they are getting older history is featuring more, and this post will translate to the subject… Thank you!

    • Kristen says

      The nice thing about this study is that it served as an overview of American history too…this is the first time Sonia and Zoe had heard about the Great Depression, and it was also the first time they’d heard much about the Civil War. Of course, Joshua and Lisey have been through American history before, but this was a good review for them.

  2. says

    Something interesting about William Henry Harrison is how ridiculously long the opening paragraph to his acceptance speech was. If I remember correctly, it was all one sntence, and essentially run-on after run-on after run-on. No wonder he caught pneumonia that night. I think. Don’t quote me on that. :)

  3. Katy says

    That sounds like a great year – your kids now know more about most of the presidents than most people in the US (sorry, bad sentence).

    • Whitney says

      That’s my all time favorite story about a president – I use it all the time to impress elementary students. It amazes them and they all die laughing. History is awesome! (and your relation just it all cooler)

  4. says

    Kristen, this sounds like a great method! We don’t home school but have had fun with the presidents at meal time over the years. We have a place mat that gets used at dinner time with all the presidents (well, not our most recent since the place mat is a bit out of date) and our kids have made up various games around them – name the first 10, who was the 28th president, which ones have served more than 1 term. It’s good for all brains at the table – including mine ;)

  5. says

    I think that’s a great way to not only learn but also to remember the material about the presidents. I’m an empty nester, but I can still appreciate your posts about this. Thanks for writing up.

    Nancy

  6. says

    When I was a kid we had a board game called “Meet the Presidents.” It was sort of like Trivial Pursuit only all of the questions were about various presidents. I think it was made in the 1960’s because it only went up to Kennedy. I fear I remember precious little of the trivia, but it did at least give me some grounding in the timeline of American history.

  7. Whitney says

    I’m really liking your homeschooling posts a LOT (I don’t comment hardly ever, but figured that was worth it). I’ve decided to implement your journaling idea that you talked about before and I like this as well. You seem to take a simple, but thought-out approach that seems very doable. It’s fun to watch!

  8. Andrea says

    Sounds like a really fun way to learn about all of the presidents. Even as an adult I’ve really been meaning to become more familiar with them, especially the obscure ones! One thing about the library – if your library doesn’t have certain titles that you are looking for, you can check with your librarian to see if they accept purchase requests. However, you would probably have to know the particular titles well in advance as turn around time could be lengthy depending on the library. It would also be a good idea to check their donation policy (as in, if they accept donations to be added collection vs. simply being sold in booksales, etc.), because if you have titles that you know are great but aren’t owned by the library, perhaps they would make a good addition to the collection. I do understand the benefits of reselling them though – what a great way to raise money for the next set of books! :)

  9. Brenda says

    Just had to comment on Polk acquiring lots of land for the U.S. – I always remember that fact because my high school history teacher referred to him as “Piggy Polk;” that has always stuck with me!

  10. Jen says

    This is fantastic! Since we live overseas we don’t get the best American History lessons in school for the kids. Definitely bookmarking and using during the Christmas break :) Thanks!

    • Rebecca P says

      There are several really great apps about the Presidents. There is also a old one called Stack the States for state studies. We are actually considering giving my 11 year old daughter my old iPhone, because of the great educational apps. Still thinking that one through, however. I can’t decide if the pros quite outweigh the cons…

      • Bob says

        One thing to keep in mind about giving your daughter your old iPhone – you don’t need to have phone service to use it – without phone service, it’s like an iPod touch with the ability to dial 911 in an emergency.

  11. Rebecca P says

    Thanks for taking the time to write all of this for us! I’m feeling inspired! We live in the Dallas area, so there are lots of possible field trips that we could plan, in addition to studying at home!

  12. robbiekay says

    We had stumbled on a series about all the presidents on, I believe, the History Channel. It was so much more interesting than any history class I could remember that I thought at the time, “If I was a home schooler I would look into using this as part of my curriculum.” However, since we don’t have children, I guess I won’t be implementing that idea. ;)

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