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Lesson Plans - Long Ago, Today and Now: The President as a Leader


Long Ago, Today and Now: The President as a Leader


Part of 3 class periods, approximately one and one-half hours divided over three days.


Faye E. Kolin   

American Political Thought:  The Constitution and the Debate Over Ratification

SALEM in History Topic Addressed:

The Constitutional Convention and the Debate over Ratification

Lesson Summary | Frameworks | Essential Question(s) | Lesson Objectives
Historical Background Essay | Materials List and Pre-Arrangements/Preparations Needed
Vocabulary | Lesson Activities | Student Product or Performance
Assessment Criteria | Possible Modifications | Possible Extension Activities
Cross Curricular/Interdisciplinary Links/Activities | Sources and Resources
Additional Resources for Students and Teachers


Preschool students will begin to explore the idea of the president as leader of the country.  They will be able to identify George Washington as a “long ago” president, and George Bush as the president “today” and “right now."   

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Christy, Howard Chandler. Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, 1937. Oil on canvas.  United States Capitol Historical Society, Washington, D.C. (painting).

McIntire, Samuel.  Medallion: Profile of GeorgeWashington, 1805. Phillips Library, Salem, Massachusetts. (scuptural medallion)

Poulides, Peter and Tony Stone.  George W. Bush, Our New President, 2001. Photograph.  Cover of Scholastic Magazine, New York: Scholastic, Inc.  (or any other contemporary presidential photograph)

Stuart, Gilbert.  Washington at Dorchester Heights, 1777. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts. (painting)

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What is a president?

Who was the very first president long ago?  What do you notice about him?

Who is the president right now?  What do you notice about him?

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Children will be exposed to two historical paintings.

Children will be exposed to a historical medallion.

Children will observe details of the paintings and medallion and verbalize what they see.

Children will learn what a president is.

Children will identify and name George Washington and George Bush.


Children will be exposed to, observe and verbalize their thoughts about two historical paintings and a medallion depicting George Washington.  They will identify pictures of Washington and the current U.S. president.  They will begin to understand the concept of “long ago," “today," and “now."        

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MA FRAMEWORK STRAND: Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten learning standards


History: Living, Learning and Working Together


PreK-K.1: With guidance from the teacher, students should be able to: identify and describe the events of people celebrated during United States national holidays and why we celebrate them.  (H). d. President’s Day.




Use correctly words and phrases related to chronology and time (now, long ago, before, after)

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As the first president of the United States, George Washington is an important and compelling figure in our nation’s history.  Because of their abstract nature, many aspects of history are developmentally beyond the understanding of preschool-aged children.   However, preschoolers can begin to recognize and appreciate George Washington.  Historical primary sources most appropriate to preschool children are images, and there are several fascinating historical images of George Washington that preschool children can find interesting.  With teacher guidance, preschoolers will begin to observe historical images and verbalize their ideas and thoughts about what they see.  They will also begin to identify characteristics that suggest the notion of “long ago” and that illustrate the importance of our first president. 

When introducing George Washington to preschoolers, it is important to keep the salient facts clear, brief, and if at all possible, as concrete as possible.   Here is a history of George Washington’s life that is suitable for preschool aged children:

George Washington was the very first president of our country, born long ago.  He grew up on a big farm called a plantation.   He especially liked learning about numbers.   Long ago, people did not have cars, but rode on horses to get from one place to another.  George liked riding on horses and had a pet horse named Nelson.  George also liked to fish, and one of his favorite foods was ice cream.  George grew up to be very tall – 6 feet and 2 inches.   When George was all grown up, he became a general of an army.  A general is a man who leads people and tells them what to do.  George was a very good general – he was a good thinker and a kind man.  George was elected president of the United States because of these good qualities.  Everyone who could vote decided to vote for George Washington – no one else received any votes.  George Washington was the president for 8 years. 

There are four primary sources that are part of this lesson.  The first one is oil on canvas entitled George Washington at Dorchester Heights, by Gilbert Stuart.  This painting was chosen for several reasons.  First, George Washington poses with a horse in this painting, in clothes which clearly are quite different from today’s fashion, including his yellow “waistcoat” and his “breeches”. Preschoolers are likely to find these aspects of the painting intriguing. The location of this painting, Dorchester Heights, is in the Boston area, and in fact, Washington’s actions in Dorchester Heights decided Boston’s fate in favor of the Patriots in 1776.  The Boston holiday of “Evacuation Day” celebrates this victory on March 17th, 1776.  Finally, Gilbert Stuart is an important painter for several reasons.   Stuart was the leading painter of portraits during his era.  He was best known for his portraits of George Washington, although he painted more than a thousand portraits of various people during his life.  Stuart’s portraits usually emphasized the sitter’s head, and mostly consisted of waist-and-bust length views of single, seated adults.  Stuart painted just a few full-length portraits, among them George Washington at Dorchester Heights.  Quite noteworthy is the fact that Stuart painted the portrait of the image of George Washington that is on the United States one-dollar bill. 

The second primary source is the Scene at the Signing of the Constitutionof the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy.  This painting is oil on canvas, and resides in the U.S. Capitol Building.  It is Christy’s most famous painting, and is considered the best single picture ever created of the founding of our country:  “Christy’s painting makes a great effort at historical authenticity, engages in political interpretation, captures the Convention at work, and brings the American Founders to life.” (1) Among noteworthy details are the depiction of a certain light in the room that suggests a movement from darkness to light, the strategic positioning of an elevated George Washington as the focal point of the painting, and the symbols behind Washington, four flags and a drum.  Preschoolers may also notice the chandelier, the curtains, and the steps, all features which highlight the fact that a very important and even majestic event is taking place. 

The third primary source is a carved oval medallion of the Profile of George Washington, by Samuel McIntire.  This source is a local one, located at the Phillips Library in Salem.  The medallion is interesting in its oval shape, and its three-dimensional qualities.  The image itself of George Washington was meticulously carved by McIntire.  Preschoolers can begin to notice and appreciate particular aspects of this image:  McIntire depicts the side view or profile of Washington, a view that is from the chest up rather than full-length.  The hairstyle of George Washington and the decorative nature of his clothes are other interesting and salient details.  Samuel McIntire was a notable Salem architect and carver, who built magnificent Federal mansions as well as figureheads for Salem vessels. His work emphasized delicate decorative elements and ornamentation, qualities that can certainly be seen in the George Washington medallion. 

The fourth primary source is a 2001 cover of Scholastic Magazine which depicts an image of George W. Bush.  This photograph is noteworthy for its bold, large image of Bush against an equally striking view of the American flag.  The clarity of the photo makes it an excellent one for preschoolers to observe.  The contrast between Bush’s hairstyle and clothes with those of George Washington is clear and salient. 

Gordon Lloyd, “About Howard Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signingof the Constitution of the United States, available from; Internet; accessed 12 August 2006.

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A non-fiction, factual book about George Washington (see suggested list on this page).

An image of Washington at Dorchester Heights, by Gilbert Stuart.

An image/print of the Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, 1937 by Howard Chandler Christy. (Note: A beautiful reproduction of the Christy painting is available at a very reasonable price ($9.95) as a poster on heavy-weight gloss paper, dimensions 26” by 19”, at the United States Capitol Historical Society).

An image of the carved oval medallion of the profile of George Washington, 1805 by Samuel McIntire.

An image of George W. Bush, and/or the current United States President.

12 x 18 inch construction paper, glue sticks, scissors, markers/crayons, chart paper.


Day One Activity:  Obtain a copy or copies of an age-appropriate factual book about George Washington.  Obtain an image/print of the Christy painting for discussion purposes.  A computer will be needed if the image is to be obtained and viewed via the internet.

Day Two Activity:  Fold the construction paper in half.  On the left side, write “long ago” and on the right side write “today … right now”.   Xerox pictures of George Washington/George Bush as obtained from books or internet sources. 

 Three Activity:  Cut the construction paper in half.  Xerox a picture of the McIntire medallion so every child has a copy.

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national pride, launch, Whampoa, anchorage, sampan, mast, profit, voyage, president:  the highest leader

plantation: a large farm that grows plants

medallion: an oval or circle that looks like a medal

profile:  the side view of a face

carving:  to decorate the surface by cutting or chipping away

chandelier: a light that hangs from the ceiling with several places for candles or light bulbs.

breeches:  pants reaching to or just below the knees, often tapered.

portrait:  a picture of a person, especially of the face.

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Day One:  This is the introduction to the lesson.  It introduces the students to George Washington and provides some information about his life.  Read one of the suggested non-fiction books about George Washington to provide some background knowledge to the class.   After reading the book, have the students observe the Gilbert Stuart painting of Washington atDorchester Heights.  Have children talk about what they notice about the painting.  Write down their responses onto chart paper. 

Day Two:  This is the student’s primary activity.  Activate prior knowledge by asking students what they recall about George Washington from the previous day’s story and discussion.  Then, have students observe the Howard Christy Chandler print Scene at the Signing of the Constitution ofthe United States.  The following questions may be used:

  • What do you see in the painting? 
  • Do you think the painting is from today or long ago?
  • Who is the man in the painting?
  • What is the name of the president today, right now?

Possible follow-up by teacher:

“Those are good answers, boys and girls.  In this picture, George Washington is signing, or writing his name, on an important piece of paper with lots of words.  The words have to do with rules that everyone will follow.  It was a very important event.”

As a follow-up, have the children do a hands-on activity.  Have xeroxed pictures of George Washington and the current president available for children to cut out and glue on the labeled construction paper under the appropriate headings.   The teacher could demonstrate the “how-to” of the activity.

Day Three:  The children could either take a field trip to the Phillips Library in Salem to observe the carved medallion of George Washington firsthand, or be shown an image to discuss.  The primary question is, “What do you see?”  Hopefully students will recognize the figure to be George Washington.  Other interesting aspects of the medallion that may appeal to preschoolers are the shape, the hairstyle, the side view or profile of George Washington, the decorative nature of his clothes, and the fact that the medallion is not a full-length view but a view from the chest up.

As a follow-up, have the children cut out xeroxed images of the medallion and glue them on construction paper.  Crayons/markers could be distributed for further enhancement.

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  • students will participate in classroom discussions and their verbal observations will be noted.
  • students will complete the hands-on activity from day two.  Their final product will be observed to ascertain their understanding of “long ago” and “today … right now” in relationship to the images of the two presidents.
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as above

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Students with developmental/language delays can be asked to point to parts of the images/prints that they find interesting.  A teacher can then supply the necessary words and phrases.

For children with developmental/fine motor delays, pictures of George Washington can be pre-cut or be enclosed by bold, black, linear lines.

For older elementary students, more sophisticated history on Washington can be provided.  See resources and links.

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  • create a “George Washington” area in the classroom.   Small plastic horses, a figure of George Washington (available at, and small table-top blocks can be used to create a mini-world.
  • interested children can color an image of George Washington available from
  • additional books about George Washington can be read to the group/individual children as interested and put in the book area.
  • additional images can be made available to children to cut out, glue and decorate in the art area.

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  • as above

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Christy, Howard Chandler.  Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of theUnited States, 1937. Oil on canvas.  United States Capitol Historical Society, Washington, D.C.  Online at [viewed 12 August 2006]

McIntire, Samuel.  Medallion: Profile of GeorgeWashington, 1805. Phillips Library, Salem, Massachusetts.

Poulides, Peter and Tony Stone.  George W. Bush, Our New President, 2001. Photograph.  Cover of Scholastic Magazine, New York: Scholastic, Inc. 

Stuart, Gilbert.   Washington at Dorchester Heights, 1777. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.  On-line at
[viewed 19 April 2006]


Preschool Level Books –

Adler, David A.  A Picture Book of George Washington.  New York:  Holiday House, 1989.

This is one of a series of historical biographies by David Adler created for the younger elementary student.  It can work well as a read-aloud for preschool and kindergarten, as well, depending on the level of the group.     The book contains colorful and engaging illustrations.  The text, although simple compared to other books about George Washington, is detailed and abstract in places and may not be as accessible to all learners as the books cited below.

Jackson, Garnet.  George Washington: Our First President.  New York, New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2000.

 This is the book I used to introduce the lesson, and I recommend it highly.  It is a story of George Washington simply and sincerely told that covers the major events of his life.  The explanations are well-done and nicely phrased, for example, “In school, George liked to read and write.  He liked numbers.  But he liked to make maps and measure land best of all.  This is called surveying.”  The illustrations are good-sized and appealing.  The book has a nice flow and emphasizes appropriate events in Washington’s life.

Pingry, Patricia.  The Story of George Washington.  Nashville, Tennessee: Ideals Children’s Books, 2000.

This is a little board book that simply and concisely tells the story of George Washington through bright pictures and brief text. 

Pingry, Patricia.  Discover George Washington: Soldier, Farmer, President.  Nashville, Tennessee:  Ideals Children’s Books, 2005

This is a paperback book 32 pages long that is a good real-aloud for preschool children.  It is very similar to the Garnet Jackson book cited above.  It is simply told and highlights the main events of Washington’s life.  The illustrations are friendly, colorful and engaging. 


“Dorchester Heights Decided Boston’s Fate in 1776” Dorchester Reporter [visited 5/11/2006].

This site provides historical information about George Washington atDorchester Heights.   It contains some good background information related to the Stuart painting.

“The White House”  [visited 5/11/2006].

This site provides information geared for children about the current President and the White House.  There is also a section entitled “history” which provides a “Meet-the-President” section put together by fifth graders, complete with a list of interesting facts.  There are also pages that can be downloaded and colored.

“Painting Collection of the Maryland Historical Society” Maryland ArtSource [visited 5/11/2006].

This site provides some brief but good information about the Stuart painting George Washington at Dorchester Heights.  It contains a useful description of the painting which can give teachers of sense of what to highlight when discussing the painting with students.

Worcester Art Museum [visited 5/11/2006].

This site provides an excellent history of Gilbert Stuart’s life, including his influential training in England, the predominant style of his paintings, and his unique personality and outlook on life.

“Salem Tales” City Guide to Salem, MA [visited 5/11/2006].

This site provides a brief background of the life of Samuel McIntire, who created the George Washington medallion.  It contains just enough information to give the reader a flavor of his life and other important works.

“About Howard Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States” Teaching American History. Org [visited 5/11/2006].

This site provides information about the life of Howard Chandler Christy as well as significant details about his painting.  There is a very interesting section which interprets the meaning of Christy’s painting and what he was trying to communicate through the depiction of the different elements in the painting.

“George Washington” [visited 5/11/2006].

This site contains a brief overview of Washington’s life that is general enough for young children to understand.  It contains very appropriate information and also links to other good sites.

“George Washington, A National Treasure” Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery [visited 5/11/2006].

This site hosts a historic tour of George Washington from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.  It contains several great sections, including an interactive site which talks about another famous George Washington painting by Gilbert Stuart, the Lansdowne Portrait.  Another section entitled “Washington’s Life” divides Washington’s life into six sections that are nicely presented into a chronological, list format.

“George and Martha Washington:  Portraits from the Presidential Years” Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery [visited 5/11/2006].

This link provides some interesting portraits of George Washington and his wife, Martha Washington, along with interesting information about the painters who did the portraits.

“Meet George Washington” George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens [visited 5/11/2006].

This is a fabulous website about George Washington’s Mount Vernon home.  There are sections in this website which feature many children’s books on George Washington for all grade levels, resources for teaching about George Washington, and available DVDs and videos.

“Learning about George Washington” The Papers of George Washington, University of Virginia [visited 5/11/2006].

This site contains a wealth of primary and secondary materials about the life of George Washington.  This is the educational resources section of the website which also provides primary materials and lessons for teachers to use with their classes.



 D’Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire.  George Washington.  Sandwich, Massachusetts:  Beautiful Feet Books, 1936.

This is a simple book about George Washington above the level of preschoolers but one that provides good background material for the teacher and one that elementary children could enjoy. The cover is wonderful, with a picture of George Washington on a white horse.  It is beautifully illustrated in a winsome style, with straightforward, direct language.  The text talks about the major events of Washington’s life with an emphasis on how his upbringing helped create the qualities that made him a great leader.

Gross, Ruth Belov.   …If You Grew Up With George Washington.  New York: Scholastic Inc., 1982.

This is a children’s book that is clearly above the level of preschoolers, but it contains interesting information about the culture and lifestyle of George Washington’s era.  It is good background material for teachers and an appealing book for elementary students.

Pingry, Patricia.  Meet George Washington.  Nashville, Tennessee: Ideals Children’s Books, 2001.

This picture book has bright illustrations and a straightforward text that talks about George Washington’s life, including his childhood in Virginia, his army career, and his presidential leadership.  It is too detailed for preschoolers, and thus is more appropriate for kindergarten and younger elementary students.

Odyssey Toys, LLC.  606 Post Road E., #592, Westport, CT 06880 USA. or call 866-869-7639

Here is a place to purchase a small George Washington figure.  There are other miniature historical figures available.

United States Capitol Historical Society.  200 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002-5796 USA. or call 800-887-9318.                                                                     

A beautiful print of Howard Chandler Christy’s  Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States is available through the United States Capitol Historical Society.

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(none suggested)

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