You've spent the fall immersed in presidential politics. What better way to commemorate all of your hard work than to give a presidential-themed gift?
My mom is a Christmas ornament fanatic. When I was growing up, she enouraged my budding interest in presidential politics by giving me White House ornaments. Each year, I look forward to digging those ornaments out of their boxes. I still place them front and center on my tree.
If you're looking to give a presidential gift this Christmas, here are some ideas. (No affiliate links--just some things I've come across).
Each year, the White House Historical Association puts out an ornament honoring the presidency. This year, they commemorate Herbert Hoover. The 2016 ornament is inspired by the fire trucks that responded to the 1929 Christmas Eve fire at the White House.
The White House Historical Association is a non-profit educational organization. Founded in 1961 by Jacqueline Kennedy, their mission is to preserve the White House and its artifacts. I like to support them because they gave me a travel grant to do research in presidential libraries when I was a graduate student. I've started a collection of these ornaments for my daughter, beginning the year she was born. Past ornaments are also available.
Happy about the Trump victory? I came across this ornament and this one on Amazon.
Our family gives lots of books at Christmastime. Here are a few presidential books I'd recommend:
Herbert Hoover: A Life (to accompany your ornament)
Washington & Hamilton (for those who love the founders)
Christmas in the White House (a big and beautiful coffee table book)
A Christmas Tree in the White House (for little kids)
We are a train loving family too. Train gifts always feature prominently under our tree. How neat are these presidential boxcars from Lionel? Chances are, they have one commemorating your favorite president.
May these gifts help your family never stop learning about the presidency.
Happy Thanksgiving to you! In the wake of this frantic election season, this is a good time to reflect on the blessings of our democracy and our constitutional system of government. In the spirit of the presidency and thankfulness, I have three ideas for your homeschool this post-election Thanksgiving week (the third one involves pie and a recipe).
1. Read George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving proclamation to your children
George Washington was the first president to declare a national day of Thanksgiving--in 1789, the year the Constitution was ratified. His words remind us of what the country had--and still has--to be thankful for. Washington was especially thankful "for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted."
Establishing the Constitution was no easy task. We had just fought a bloody war with Britain to gain independence. The first constitution--the Articles of Confederation--was a disaster. And there were many who opposed the Constitution, which is now the world's oldest. We should be thankful that ours is a government of laws, not of men.
2. Watch Donald Trump and Barack Obama's press remarks following their first meeting
Many countries around the globe do not enjoy peaceful transitions of power between rulers. It is nothing short of a miracle that we do enjoy this in the United States. Regardless of whether your candidate won, all Americans should be thankful for the peaceful transition of power. It shows that our country is safe and secure.
3. Bake Mamie Eisenhower's Pumpkin Pie
When I think of Mamie Eisenhower's pumpkin pie, I think of prosperity. Mamie Eisenhower was first lady in the 1950s, a time of economic boom preceded by a period of depression and war. In the 1950s, Americans were cooking, celebrating, and consuming. Magazines wanted to know all of the details of Mamie's domestic life, including what was on her Thanksgiving table.
Mamie's pumpkin pie even uses gelatin, the popular postwar thickening agent. I made Mamie's pie with my kids this week, and we had a great time. Consider bringing Mamie's pie to your Thanksgiving Day gathering. May it remind you to be thankful for our country's prosperity. Enjoy!
Mamie Eisenhower's Pumpkin Pie
3 beaten egg yolks
3/4 cup brown sugar
21/2 cups cooks pumpkin (canned is fine)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 envelope Knox gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
3 stiffly beaten egg whites
1/4 cup granulated sugar
One (baked) pie shell
Combine egg yolks, brown sugar, pumpkin, milk, salt and spices. Cook in double boiler until thick, stirring constantly. Soak gelatin in cold water, stir into hot mixture. Chill until partly set. Beat egg whites, add granulated sugar, and beat stiff. Fold into pumpkin/gelatin mixture. Pour into pie shell and chill until set. Garnish with whipped cream.
Wow! I was surprised by the election results, as were many around the country. Experts, pundits, and average citizens alike will spend the following days and weeks trying to figure out how political outsider Trump pulled off the incredible win over consummate insider Clinton. So, how did it happen? The answer: Trump forged a winning Electoral College coalition.
Election Day always leaves people puzzling over how our presidential election system works. It is confusing. Presidents are not elected directly by the popular vote. Instead, they must win a majority of Electoral College votes.
How It Works:
Voters go to the polls in the individual states and then vote for a candidate on the ballot. The votes are then tallied in order to determine who received the most votes in the state. For the candidate who gets the most votes, the individual electors from the candidate’s party gets to cast all of the electoral votes in the state. This is called the “winner-take-all” method.
Maine and Nebraska exceptions:
These states use the “Congressional District Method.” With this method, a state is divided into its congressional districts, and the winner of each district is awarded that district’s electoral vote, and the winner of the state-wide vote is then awarded the state’s remaining 2 electoral votes. (Note that Maine's result this year was split).
How Electoral Votes Are Calculated:
The number of electoral votes a state gets is calculated by adding the number of congressional districts or representatives for each state (and this is based on population) to the number of senators (2 for each state). So, that’s why bigger states have more representatives and thus more electoral votes. Pennsylvania, for example, has 18 congressional districts, so how many electoral votes does it have? That’s right: 20.
270: The Magic Number
A candidate needs 270 electoral votes in order to win. Flip down a few slides for a mathematical illustration of how this number is derived. Note that Washington, DC, which does not have any voting members in Congress, is given 3 electoral votes by the Constitution. Interestingly, DC has 3 electors because the Constitution says in the 23rd Amendment that it can’t have more than the least populous state. So, the total is 538. The winning candidate needs to secure a majority of the electoral votes. How do you get a majority? Divide 538 by 2 and add one.
Here's the Formula:
435 (total number of house districts/members) +
100 (total number of senators) =
3 (number of electors allotted to DC) =
(538 / 2) + 1 = 270
Party Control of Elector Selection and Electoral College Voting
The states nominate electors through the political parties. Each state has its own specific method of doing this--from state party conventions to campaign committees. In the Electoral College, if the Democrat wins, the Democratic electors get to vote, and Republicans do not…and vice versa if the Republican wins in the state.
The Electoral College in 2016
Trump and the Republican National Committee successfully targeted swing states with large shares of Electoral College votes. They focused registration, turnout, and advertising in these states, especially Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He also focused on Michigan and Wisconsin, which had not voted Republican in years, and Iowa, which has been a swing state.
Want to teach your children about the Electoral College and understand how Trump won? Here are some steps you can take:
1. Review the above information with them.
2. Download and print a blank 2016 electoral map. You can find one here or do an electronic one here.
3. Then find an interactive map online. Politico has a good one here. Starting on the East Coast, click on each state to see the results from the popular vote and how they informed the Electoral College vote.
4. On your blank map, have your child color states that Trump won in red and states that Clinton won in blue.
5. Meanwhile, keep a running tally of Electoral College votes for Trump and Clinton. Add them up. This will show your student how Trump got the needed 270 votes.
Do your feelings about this year's presidential election match anybody pictured in this Norman Rockwell painting, Election Day? Fear not. It's almost here: the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November!
In this post, I'll give you some ideas about what to do with your homeschoolers to celebrate Election Day. I heartily believe that your family should mark the occasion.
1. Take your kids with you to vote.
There is no better way to instill good citizenship values than by taking your kids with you to vote. I will be taking mine. Voting is the most frequently exercised form of political participation, and it is up to parents to set a good example. I have vivid memories of going with my parents to the polls, looking at the ballots, seeing how the process worked.
Many precincts will have kids' voting stations set up, where kids who are under eighteen can cast their own ballots (that are not officially counted, obviously).
After you come home, talk about what you observed--about the people and signs outside, who and what you encountered when you were inside, whether you had to present identification, who was on the ballot and so forth. Ask your children if they have any questions.
2. Volunteer at the polls.
Campaigns are always looking for people to stand outside of the polling places to hand out literature and sample ballots. I just responded to an email requesting that I work the polls on Election Day for my local congresswoman, since I had done some volunteer work for her. The campaign manager was looking for people who could approach voters as they go into the polling place and hand out information.
This is great experience too. Contact your local party organizations, or even contact the campaigns of people farther down the ballot (U.S. Congress, state legislature, governor, mayor, town council, etc.) to see if they need help. I'm sure they do. Of course, parents should volunteer together with their kids.
3. Teach your kids not to take voting rights for granted. Read President Lyndon Johnson's famous 1965 speech, which he delivered to persuade Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. Or read suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt's speech to Congress imploring them to grant women the right to vote.
4. Get something for free.
After you vote, take advantage of one of the many Election Day freebies from retailers around the country.
5. Gather together to watch the returns.
In the past, I have really loved going to election night returns parties. I'd gather with friends around the television and watch the results come in. It is a good time to explain to your kids how news networks use exit polls to "call" the states before all of the ballots are counted. (However, I've been reading some articles lately about how party hosts are planning carefully, since emotions have been running high in this election). But if a party is in the plan, don't forget to follow us on Pinterest for some patriotic food ideas.
In the third 2016 presidential debate, Donald Trump made headlines for not saying whether he would accept the outcome of the election. Hillary Clinton called his response "horrifying." Whether you believe that the election is rigged or that the loser should automatically accept the outcome, students should understand our election laws. Our system is not perfect. It is run by humans and subject to human error. Yet, in making their election laws, states work to balance access to the polling place with keeping fraud out of the process.
Voting doesn't just happen on Election Day anymore. Though Election Day is still several weeks away, people around the country are already casting their ballots. Over the last decade, states have changed their laws to allow for more and more options for voting. Americans like choices and flexibility. And officials want to make it as easy as possible for citizens to vote. They have been concerned about low turnout rates. Only between fifty and sixty percent of eligible Americans have turned out to vote in recent presidential elections.
Election laws differ from state to state. Some laws--like requiring voters to present identification--are controversial. The National Conference of State Legislatures is a good resource for comparing and contrasting state election laws. Click on the links below to access the information.
This week, have your student look at the laws for the state where you live. And then choose another state so that you can compare and contrast election laws.
Voter ID Laws
Absentee and Early Voting
Same Day Voter Registration
Vote by Mail
Online Voter Registration
Preregistration for Young Voters
"The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States." - Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, No. 68
I appreciated the very first question in town hall debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Audience member Patrice Brock asked,
"The last presidential debate could have been rated as MA, mature audiences per TV parental guidelines. Knowing that educators assign viewing the presidential debates as students’ homework, do you feel you are modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today’s youth?"
As a parent, I understand Patrice's concern. Given the events of the last week, parents are nervous about allowing their children to tune into election coverage. How will it add to children's vocabularies? Shape their world views? Set an example?
If you share these concerns, this might be a good week to take a break from 2016 election coverage and dial back a couple of centuries.
James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote The Federalist Papers to persuade the nation to adopt the Constitution. In No. 68, Hamilton sets out the reasons the Electoral College would be the best method for electing the president. As originally conceived, the Electoral College would be made up, state-by-state, of wise men capable of selecting a person fit for the highest office in the land. These electors would meet in their respective state capitols and deliberate about the candidates and their fitness for office.
The Electoral College only worked as intended for one president: George Washington. The rise of the political parties would soon alter, and some would argue corrupt, the process.
We still have the Electoral College as mandated by the Constitution. But it works very differently than originally intended. How did we get from there to here? Our Presidential Elections unit study explains how and why our system of electing a president changed.
This week, take some time to read about why the Electoral College was set up, what it was supposed to guard against, and what kind of people it was supposed to elect to the presidency.
You can find The Federalist No. 68 here.
Read it with your student. Then consider the following questions:
It's not too late to delve into the Presidential Elections unit study. Families can easily double-up on lessons and be fully informed when Election Day arrives!
Did you watch the first presidential debate? I wasn't able to watch it live, but I was able to download it via the CNN Debates podcast and listen to it in my car the very next day. Nothing beats watching it live on television, but this was the next best thing. The debate podcasts are unedited, and there's no commentary from CNN anchors, which is exactly what I was looking for. This is a great resource for busy homeschool families on the go! Other recent CNN Debates podcasts include a town hall with Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and another with libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. I plan to listen to both!
In case you missed the first debate, you can watch it in full here.
Don't forget to mark your calendar for the next debates:
October 4, 2016: Vice Presidential Debate
October 9, 2016: Second Presidential Debate
October 19, 2016: Third Presidential Debate
Since the debates will be dominating presidential election news for the next few weeks, we've created a game for your homeschool family to play as you watch or listen (live or later). It's called 99 Words. It's fun, and it will encourage your homeschool student really pay attention to what the candidates are saying. Students can play by themselves, or the whole family can play. Or better yet, host a debate watching party and have all of the guests play. Here's how:
1. Download the free printable. Print out as many copies as you have players.
2. The players should carefully read over the list of words several times.
3. Then watch a presidential or vice presidential debate.
4. As the players watch, whenever they hear a candidate say one of the words, they should circle it on their papers.
5. At the end of the debate, the players should add up the number of words they had circled.
6. The winner is the person who circled the most words. If playing alone, see how close to 99 the player came!
7. Optional follow-up: Take two or three of the words and ask your students if they remember what the candidates were talking about when they heard the words. (For example, what were the candidates debating when the word "energy" came up?)
Another interesting activity would be to play the 99 Words game while watching a presidential debate from history. Try the 1980 debate between President Jimmy Carter and Governor Ronald Reagan. Then compare the results to the 2016 debates.
Ask: Which words came up in both debates, and why?
By the way, its not too late to begin studying the Election. Check out our Presidential Election Unit Study for some assistance (you can double up on the lessons).
*Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Library.
Third parties were in the news this week. The Commission on Presidential Debates, the non-partisan group that makes sure the candidates debate one another, ruled that the third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein cannot compete in the first debate. The first debate is on September 26, 2016 at Hofstra University in New York.
The Commission will allow third parties to compete only if they are legally eligible to be president, are on enough state ballots to win the election, and have at least 15 percent support in five polls. Johnson and Stein met the first two requirements but not the third. The Commission calculated that Johnson was polling at an average of 8.4 percent, while Stein was polling at 3.2 percent. While their campaigns did not have much of a chance, this decision really hurt them. But they can still participate in the final two presidential debates if their support increases in the coming weeks.
Johnson is actually doing well for a third party candidate in an American presidential election. He is running as the candidate for the Libertarian Party. He is the first third party candidate since 1996, when H. Ross Perot mounted a successful independent bid, to be on the ballot in all fifty states plus Washington, D.C.
Stein is running as the candidate for the Green Party. While she is not doing as well as Johnson, she, as well as Johnson, may impact the outcome of the election in states where the vote will be close. In the 2000 election, for example, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader won 97,421 votes in Florida, the state that decided the election. George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by only 537 votes.
The most successful third party candidate in recent history was H. Ross Perot. While he ran and did well in 1996, he also ran in 1992 and won 19 percent of the popular vote. Perot probably could have done even better if he hadn't dropped out of the race and then got back in late in the game. Perot, however, did not get any Electoral College votes. Also, Perot was polling well enough that the Commission allowed him to participate in all three presidential debates!
This week, let's take a closer look at third parties.
Explore the websites for Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) and Jill Stein (Green Party). What are the candidates' backgrounds, and how did they get into politics? Who are their vice presidential nominees?
What issues are important to the third party candidates? How do they differ from the Democratic and Republican candidates? Younger students can then write a few sentences on each question. More advanced students can write a compare and contrast essay of about 500 words in length.
Watch the town hall debate in 1992 between President George H.W. Bush, Governor Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. How did the candidates differ from one another?
Watch this Perot infomercial from 1992. Based on what you saw, why did so many Americans like Perot?
Questions for Debate:
Is it fair that Johnson and Stein are being excluded from the first debate in the 2016 campaign?
Should third parties be allowed to compete in the presidential debates, no matter how well they are polling?
What criteria should third party candidates have to meet to be allowed to compete in the presidential debates?
How well do you think the third party candidates will do this year? Do you think they will impact the outcome of the election?
Would you vote for one of the third party candidates in 2016? Why or why not?
You like Ike
I like Ike
Everybody Likes Ike...
Hang out the banner and beat the drum
We'll take Ike to Washington.
These are the words to the catchy jingle of Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1952 campaign advertisement, "Ike for President." You can watch it here. See if you're not singing the tune for the rest of the day! The year 1952 marked the first time television advertisements were used in a presidential election. And they haven't gone out of fashion. They've been filling our airwaves each election season ever since. Television reaches more Americans than any other medium, so campaign ads are a very important part of campaign strategy.
I love teaching about campaign ads. If students are bored by the Electoral College and party platforms, they'll sit enraptured watching campaign ads. Students can learn so much from campaign ads, from what leadership image the candidates are trying to get across to the issues that are important in the campaigns.
Campaign ads come in two forms: positive and negative. This week, we'll take a look at positive ads. The first televised ads were positive ones; those that aired during the 1950s and early 1960s were cheery and optimistic. Today, campaigns still put out positive ads, though attack ads or negative ads have also become important parts of media strategy. We'll talk about negative ads next week.
In positive ads, we see the candidates looking good. They brag about the great things they have done and what kind and generous people they are. Positive ads tell about the candidate’s personal story and values. In positive ads, there is usually pleasant music playing in the background. Pictures of the candidates’ family are flashed on the screen. Candidates often speak directly into the camera. They try to come across as one of the people. The images convey hope.
This week, we're going to take a closer look at a positive ad for each of the major party candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
1. Have your student view this positive ad "Dorothy" from Hillary Clinton and this one called "America Soaring" from Donald Trump.
2. Tell your student there are five main elements in every campaign ad: pictures, sound, words, color, and voices. Re-watch the ads as many times as you need to in order to really soak them in. Consider the following questions.
a. Pictures: What positive images are used? How do they portray the candidate in a good light?
b. Sound: Is there music in the background? How does it set a positive tone? What about other sounds?
c. Words: Does text (printed words) appear on the screen? What positive messages does the text convey?
d. Color: How is color used to create a positive message?
e. Voices: Whose voices do you hear? How do they sound? How do they make the viewers feel?
Students can write out 3-5 sentences on each question. More advanced students can write a 5oo-word essay on "The Five Elements of a Positive Ad," applying the elements to one of the ads.
The best Website for campaign ads in history is The Living Room Candidate. On this site, you can view campaign ads from 1952 onward.
You can find the current candidates' campaign ads and more on their YouTube Channels: Hillary Clinton and
Donald J. Trump for President.
Another really fun activity is to go to The Living Room Candidate and pick out one or more positive ads between 1952 and 2012. Then repeat the above exercise on pictures, sound, words, color, and voices.
For more resources, exercises and detailed lessons, check out our Presidential Unit Election Study.
Jackie Kennedy was pregnant during her husband’s 1960 presidential campaign. She had difficult pregnancies in the past and could not handle the rigors of the campaign trail.
In 1960, the presidential debates were televised for the first time. Television was a new medium, and the debates ushered in a new era in which television dominated electoral politics.
Though she was precariously pregnant, Jackie Kennedy still found ways to be useful. To mark the debates, she hosted a series of television “listening parties” at her home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. She also invited Americans to ask friends into their own living rooms, imploring them to “Join in the Great Debate.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates recently announced the dates for the 2016 presidential debates:
September 26, 2016: First presidential debate
October 4, 2016: Vice presidential debate
October 9, 2016: Second presidential debate
October 19, 2016: Third presidential debate
Why not plan to gather your family together with friends to watch the presidential debates? You can learn about issues, share reactions, and have fun all at the same time! Need some help in putting together a presidential debate party? Here are three tips from Jackie Kennedy.
(Plus, keep reading for a fun and educational document from the JFK Library archives, including related questions to help your student dig into history).
1. Open Your Home
Jackie Kennedy provided a warm and personal setting for her debate party: her own home. She could have rented out a nearby reception hall or just had a Democratic committeewoman host it instead. But she didn’t. She felt it was important for her guests to watch the debate in her own living room.
Oftentimes, it is easier for us not to open up our homes. Our homes are never in tip-top shape (at least mine isn’t), plus there’s all the cooking and cleaning. Remember that Jackie Kennedy was pregnant. And she was nervous. Much was at stake for her family. In the days leading up to the debate, she said that she “lived in suspense waiting for the great moment and hoping Jack would do well.”
To help welcome others into your home, it's always a good idea to serve food. If you’re looking for some fun ideas for presidential debate fare, follow our Patriotic Food and Presidential Food boards on Pinterest.
2. Invite Friends
In her “Campaign Wife” newspaper column, Jackie Kennedy said, “I prepared for the first of the great debates…by inviting friends to watch it with me.” Her invite list was Democrats only. But she wrote, “I wanted to hold the first listening party to encourage people around the country to do the same, whether for Kennedy or Nixon.”
Take a cue from Jackie Kennedy and be sure to include likeminded people on your own debate party invite list.
3. Make Handouts
At Jackie Kennedy’s debate parties, she distributed fact sheets about the four major issues in 1960: peace, education, cost of living, and medical costs for senior citizens. This helped to educate the guests, while nudging them turn out for the party ticket.
You too can make fact sheets on important issues of the day: the economy, terrorism, jobs, and others. Check out your candidates’ official websites for their issue positions.
Now for the historical document from the Kennedy archives. I dug up this document at the Kennedy Library when I was doing research for my book on first ladies. It is the press release announcing Jackie Kennedy’s first TV-listening party.
Have your student read the document and answer these questions:
You can learn more about the presidential debates, including the historic Nixon-Kennedy debate, in our Presidential Elections unit study.