- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2000

As our nation gears up for the presidential election, this is a natural time to study the U.S. presidents. Our family

has had some interesting realizations while doing projects and learning about the men entrusted with the executive office.

One of the easiest ways to start is to get a set of flashcards or a poster with the basic information about each president. Using this as a rough framework, you can then create some new ways of looking at the men.

For instance, you might have the children create a map indicating the birth state of each president. This project can be as simple as using an existing map and putting sticky notes with the president's name on his birthplace. As you progress through the presidents, your children will begin to notice patterns and variations, leading to questions about why certain places produced a lot of presidents, or how each person was shaped by his origins. This reinforces both historical and geographical learning.

Then, you can have your children create graphs showing various data. You could ask them to create a graph with each president's age at the time of his election, for instance. Or you could compare the number of terms in office or the type of schooling they received. (Find out how many were home-schooled, for instance.)

These projects incorporate math skills by showing the children how to develop tables and charts to describe and compare data. This is a great way for children to become familiar with various ways to analyze and compare information.

Another project might be to create visual or 3-D displays about the presidents. You can create timelines with the tenure of each president connected to the events that took place during each administration. You could involve art skills, by creating sculptures or posters of one or more presidents. You could even have your children create games or home videos using the important events of each president's term. For instance, have the children try to stump each other in a game-show format by asking "Which president died only one month after his inauguration?" or "Which president ordered the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan?"

You can even use humor, challenging the students to research and find the skinniest or fattest or funniest-looking president. Have them make a presentation and be prepared to defend their choice in a debate.

These are just a few ideas, but as you can see, there are an infinite number of ways to stimulate your children's curiosity, and you can incorporate virtually every subject area. For older students, you can teach statistics, journalism, technology and even psychology.

One of my favorite things is to study the literature about and by the presidents. You can have the children read Walt Whitman's poem "Oh Captain, My Captain," and discuss how he uses his verses to eulogize Abraham Lincoln. Or read "Profiles in Courage" by John F. Kennedy. A friend has a book from the 1890s written about the life of George Washington, which she reads to her children to give them an understanding of this great patriot. And don't forget the wives Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison and Betty Ford have heroic stories of their own.

No matter what approach you take, get the children writing. It doesn't matter if it's in the form of reports, articles, plays, songs or letters the important thing is to get them expressing their ideas in writing. This exercise will automatically lead to development in grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Your children will naturally begin to make certain comparisons with the present. They will see for themselves how character is forged through the choices made earlier in the lives of these leaders, and they will see how that character led to each one's response to the crises of his presidency. This may lead to some interesting discussions on what kind of qualities a leader should have.

You may have noticed I haven't suggested studying the current presidential race. Why not? I believe politics and history are very different areas of study. Politics tends to dwell on promises and speculation. History is what actually happened. Political discussions can meander and get bogged down in personal bias. But when we study history, we can more easily see how the real person dealt with the crucial moments of his presidency. With politics, we are guessing how someone will react in the hard circumstance. With history, we know how this person did react.

In short, the lessons of history can provide a more clear basis for us to judge not only what kind of leaders we might vote for, but more importantly, what kind of people we should be. If your family is fortunate, your children will begin to discern the essential qualities necessary to become a great man or a great woman. Ultimately, the goal is not merely to teach them how to be wise citizens and voters, but how to become people who will use their lives to change society for the better.

We are all called to greatness, not merely those who go into politics. This is a good chance to peruse the example of past leaders and to reflect on the lesson that can be learned from each.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer living in Maryland.

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