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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.


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

(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.


Joshua’s 365 post: Macro Pictures, Day 2

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Monday 17th of September 2012

You're a natural teacher, Kristen. Kudos on this study!


Sunday 16th of September 2012

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. ;)

Rebecca P

Sunday 16th of September 2012

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!


Sunday 16th of September 2012

I used the presidents vrs aliens app. on i-tunes for just .99 cents to help my kids memorize the presidents. It would be a fun an inexpensive addition for those who already have i-touches, i-pads or i-phones.

Rebecca P

Sunday 16th of September 2012

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...


Sunday 16th of September 2012

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!

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