Subtopic: Federal Holidays
Grade Level: 3rd Grade
Author: Stephanie Balls
Students will identify the federal holidays.
Students will learn why each holiday is celebrated.
Students will learn the history of each holiday.
Students will identify how the celebration of each holiday ties the nation
Burnett, B. (1983). Holidays. New York: Franklin Watts. Third Edition.
Low, A. (1991). The Family Read-Aloud Holiday Treasury. Boston, Massachusetts:
Little, Brown and Company.
Lowery, L. (1987). Martin Luther King Day. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Carolrhoda
Penner, L. (1983). Celebration. The Story of American Holidays. New York:
Purcell, J. (1955). The True Book of Holidays. Chicago: Children's Press.
Scott, G. (1982). Labor Day. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Carolrhoda Books, Inc.
Scott, G. (1983). Memorial Day. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Carolrhoda Books, Inc.
Sorenson, L. (1994). Memorial Day. Vero Beach, Florida: Rourke Press.
Sorenson, L. (1994). President's Day. Vero Beach, Florida: Rourke Press.
Wilt, J. & Watson, T. (1978). Season and Holiday Happenings. Waco, Texas: Creative
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated every third Monday in January. On this
day schools are closed, postal and bank workers get the day off, and every federal
office in the country shuts down.
Martin Luther King, Jr was born on January 15, 1929. He was the son of a
Baptist minister. Martin, too, became a minister. In the 1950's, he became active in
the civil rights movement. At that time, laws in America limited the rights of black
Americans. For example, blacks could not eat in restaurants or sit in public waiting
rooms. Blacks had separate drinking fountains, bathrooms, and areas to ride on the
Martin Luther King, Jr supported nonviolent protests to change such unfair
laws. On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King led more than 200,000 Americans in a
peaceful march in Washington D.C. This is where he made his famous "I Have a
Dream" speech. In April, 1968 King, Jr was shot in Memphis Tennessee. He fought for
freedom, equality, and dignity for all races. He tried to better the lives of the poor.
He was a leader for world peace, also.
There was a great deal of controversy surrounding the legislature it took to
make this day a National Holiday. Many people thought that if Martin Luther King, Jr
was given a holiday, then other great Americans such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F.
Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower should be given a holiday also.
Others claimed that we already have enough federal holidays. This would be
number ten. It costs the federal government a great deal to pay for this and other
holidays. Other still felt that this was just a way to make up for the way blacks were
treated during slavery.
Finally, the bill was passed and signed into law by President Reagan on
November 2, 1983, although the first national celebration of King's birthday did not
occur until January 20, 1986. President Reagan also urged each state to decide on a
tribute to King.
Students will identify the reasons that Martin Luther King Jr is a national hero.
Students will identify and research other heros.
Students will write tributes to Martin Luther King Jr.
Students will identify how much each federal holiday costs the government.
Time Allotment: 2 to 3 days.
Poems entitled We Shall Overcome and Dreams (see appendix).
Library and resource materials.
A. Mini-Lecture - Discuss with the students all of the great things that Martin Luther
King, Jr did for our country. Resources for this information can be found in the
B. Journal Writing - Tell the students to write in the journals about what their tribute
to King would be (as President Reagan asked each state to have). Guide their ideas
to reflect the man that he was and the great things that he accomplished.
C. Choral Reading - Read as a class the poems entitled We Shall Overcome and
D. Study of Heros - Discuss with the students what a hero is. Explain to the students
that there are other heros besides those athletes that play professional sports.
Discuss with them the following people who represent steps forward for freedom,
justice, and equality: Jackie Robinson--the first black to play professional baseball.
Sally Ride--the first woman athlete. Rosa Parks--the black woman who refused to give
up her seat on a bus to a white man. Sandra Day O'Connor--the first woman in the
supreme court. Cesar Chavez--fought for Mexican American farm workers to win
better pay and working conditions. Jesse Jackson--civil rights leader. Have the
students research a hero that has made great steps for his or her country or cause.
E. Computing the Cost - Have students compute how much it costs the government
to have a federal holiday. It costs $18 million for extra overtime pay to federal
employees who have to work on a federal holiday. It costs another $220 million to
pay employees for a day on which they are not working. Have the students compute
how much it costs for the United States to celebrate the 10 National Holidays.
Questions and comments during the open discussion will be assessed.
Writings in journals will be assessed.
Research and report on heros will be assessed.
Math computation on cost of holiday will be assessed.
Washington's Birthday (official federal designation)
(a.k.a. President's Day celebrating George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's Birthday)
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were two of our greatest and best
loved presidents. We observe the birthdays of both. Washington's birthday falls on
February 22 and Lincoln's on February 12. Many states now observe one holiday on
the third Monday in February and call it President's Day. President's Day honors two
men who worked hard for America during difficult times. All United States
Government offices such as Postal Service Offices are closed on President's Day.
Many schools are also closed.
George Washington, the father of our country, was born on February 22, 1732
in Virginia. He began his service for our country as a commander-in-chief of the
colonial army. Washington was a strong and inspiring leader. His soldiers were
devoted to him.
He was elected first president of the United States. He served two terms, but
declined to serve a third. Washington died on December 14, 1799. His birthday has
been celebrated in numerous ways ever since his death. Today schools, banks,
libraries, and government offices are closed in honor of his birthday. There is a
wreath-laying ceremony at his burial site in Mount Vernon. At Valley Forge, the site
where Washington spent a long, hard winter, there is a reenactment of the military
exercises Washington and his soldiers performed.
Americans remember George Washington with great respect. Washington
worked hard and fought to help America become a free, independent nation. George
Washington has also been honored with a large monument--the Washington
Monument, located in Washington D.C. He also has a state named after him, and his
picture is on the dollar bill and the quarter.
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in a tiny log cabin in Kentucky.
He only had one year of schooling, but he loved to read and this is how he received
most of his education.
He was a tall, thin man who often wore a tall, black hat called a stovepipe hat,
in which he kept letters and notes tucked in the inside band. He was elected president
in 1861, not soon after, the Civil War began. Lincoln issued the famous Emancipation
Proclamation, which freed all slaves. Only five days after the Civil War ended, Lincoln
was shot in a theater by John Wilkes Booth.
Beginning with the first year after Lincoln's death, his birthday was celebrated
in many different kinds of gatherings. Today, Lincoln's birthday is observed along with
Washington's on the third Monday in February.
Lincoln was admired so much that a huge memorial--the Lincoln Memorial, a
large statue of President Lincoln, was erected in his honor. Lincoln's picture is also on
the five dollar bill and the penny.
Students will identify the traits that made George Washington and Abraham
Lincoln great men.
Students will write about presidents and the traits that make them great men.
Students will write reasons why President's Day should be celebrated.
Time Allotment: 2 to 3 days.
Activities listed in the appendix.
The Lincoln Penny
A Letter About George Washington
What's in a Name
Library and resource materials.
A. Mini-Lesson - In this lesson discuss the qualities and traits that made both George
Washington and Abraham Lincoln famous men who the country admires. Discuss in
detail their backgrounds, presidency, and legacies.
B. Letter About George Washington - See appendix for materials and instruction.
C. The Lincoln Penny - See appendix for materials and instruction.
D. What's in a Name? - See appendix for materials and instruction.
E. Presidents Past and Present - Assign each student a president to research and
report on. Have them find five important things that he did for our country and some
of the traits that made him a great man. Limit the length of this report to one or
F. If I Were President - Have the students pretend that it is the year 2040 and they
are the President of the United States. Have them list on a paper 10 reasons why the
nation should celebrate their being president on President's Day.
Activities from appendix will be assessed for completeness and understanding.
Research on presidents will be assessed for completeness, handwriting, grammar, and
List of presidential qualities will be assessed.
Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer. It is celebrated on either May
30 or May 31. Memorial Day had it's beginnings during the American Civil War. This
was a long and bloody war that lasted for four years. In the Civil War, Americans
fought Americans. The southern states were fighting against the northern states.
They were fighting to see if the United States should remain one unified country. The
southern states wanted to separate and be a separate country. Since this war was
fought within a single country, families ended up fighting against each other. If one
brother lived in Maine and the other lived in Georgia, they often ended up fighting
against each other. Sons fought against fathers and cousins fought against other
cousins. This made the Civil War especially terrible. When the war was finally over the
people of the United States were happy, yet they also felt a lot of sadness for the
things that had occurred.
A man by the name of Henry C. Welles, from New York, felt that they should do
something to honor the soldiers who were returning home and the ones who had died.
He decided that his town should honor those who had died by placing flowers and
flags on their graves. They would also honor those soldiers who had come home by
having a parade on the way to the cemetery. He decided to call this day Decoration
The first Decoration Day was held on May 5, 1866. General John A. Logan had
a similar idea to Welles'. General Logan led a group called the Grand Army of the
Republic. He issued all members to decorate the graves of northern soldiers.
In 1868, the two days were combined into one day. In 1882 the Grand Army
of the Republic changed the name of Decoration Day to Memorial Day. They thought
it would be better to remember the dead soldiers who fought in all of the wars, not
just the Civil War. Memorial Day had been declared a legal holiday in the northern
states, but many of the southern states did not celebrate it. They celebrated a
holiday like it, but not on the same date. Each southern state celebrated it on a
In 1971, President Nixon declared that Memorial Day was a National Holiday.
Today many people celebrate Memorial Day by having family gatherings and picnics.
People remember their dead relatives on Memorial Day, not just those soldiers who
have died in wars. Many towns and organizations have ceremonies to celebrate
those who have died. This is often done by having moments of silence; parades with
marching bands; and by placing wreaths, flowers, and flags on graves. Even though
the name and dates have changed, Memorial Day is still a day that we celebrate
peace and remember those who have died.
Students will identify the reasons that Memorial Day is celebrated.
Students will identify ways that people express their patriotism (Poems, music,
Students will learn the reasons for war.
Students will learn the proper behavior while visiting a cemetery.
Time Allotment: 1 week
Library and other research materials.
Poem entitled When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again (see appendix)
A. Open Discussion - Ask the students what type of activities they do on Memorial
Day. Ask them if they know why we celebrate Memorial Day. Explain to the students
that Memorial Day originated because people wanted a way to remember those who
had died fighting for our country. Ask the students if any of their family members
have fought in a war. Ask the students if any of their family members have died
fighting for our country. Explain to the students the honor that is associated with
dying for your country in battle. Discuss with the students the different ways that we
decorate the graves of soldiers and those family members who have passed away.
This is usually done by leaving flags, flowers, and memorabilia on the headstones.
B. Choral Reading - Read the poem When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again (see
appendix) as a class. Divide the class in half. One half of the class will read the
sentences in the poem, while the other half will shout Hurrah! Hurrah! Discuss with
the students unfamiliar words and terms in this poem. Talk about the reasons why
this poem was written.
C. Research and Reports - Divide the class into groups. Assign each group to
research and report on a war that the United States has been involved in. Assign
each student in the group a subtopic to report on such as: the countries involved, the
reasons for the war, how long it lasted, how much it cost, how it was resolved.
D. Hands on - Have each student pretend that they are soldiers fighting for the
United States in a great war. Each soldier has fought bravely and heroically for their
country. Have the students design what they want their headstones to say about the
way they died and how they fought bravely for their country. Allow the students to
design and decorate their headstones.
E. Guided-Discussion - Discuss with the students the proper way to behave when they
are visiting a cemetery. There needs to be respect and honor demonstrated. Discuss
different types of materials used to decorate headstones, etc.
Questions and answers during discussion will be assessed.
Participation in choral reading will be assessed.
Oral presentation of the reports will be a method of assessment.
Inscriptions on headstones will assess students understanding of patriotism and
Labor Day is a holiday that has only been celebrated for the last 100 years or
so. At that time it wasn't a holiday that was celebrated all over the country, only in
New York City. There was a large variety of workers that lived in New York City at
that time. They included carpenters, brick layers, furniture makers, printers, and
others. Each craftsman was very proud of the work that he did. Many of the
workers in New York were immigrants from other countries. In those countries many
of the workers had special holidays on which they celebrated their fine craftsmanship.
These special holidays would include parades, picnics, and large gatherings to show
off their fine workmanship. There were no such holidays in the United States and the
workers missed the old ways. Many of the workers complained to the Central Labor
Union. On May 14, 188 in New York City it was decided that a large festival would be
held. This would be a time that the workers could show off their work, have a good
time, and discuss their current working conditions.
Peter J. McGuire and Matthew Macguire are credited with organizing this big
festival. The festival date was set for Monday, September 5, 1882. All types of
workers were invited, but the organizers were afraid that no one would come
because there had never been such a festival in the United States like this one.
On September 5, at 10:30 a.m., workers lined up to begin the parade. There
were only a handful of people there ready to march, but they decided to start the
parade anyway. Since the parade was so small, traffic wouldn't stop for them and
many of the marchers had to try and avoid wagons and streetcars. Suddenly, 200
jewelry workers came marching around the corner to join the parade. They had even
brought their own band. As the parade progressed down the street, many other
groups of workers joined in. There ended up being 10,000 people who marched in the
parade. Traffic came to a stop and thousands of people stood and watched.
After the parade, everyone gathered at a park and had a huge picnic. There
were speakers who talked about the importance of unions, ways to end child labor,
and ways to improve working conditions.
The first Labor Day was a huge success and other workers all over America
were interested in it becoming a National Holiday. Many cities passed Labor Day
Laws similar to the ones in New York. Then, states began to pass laws so that they
had a state Labor Day. By the 1930's every state in the United States celebrated
Labor Day. Labor Day helped tie the nations workers together. It helped pass many
laws to improve working conditions and end child labor. Many workers formed unions
to help change laws that could not have been done by an individual alone.
Students will identify the reasons that Labor Day is celebrated.
Students will identify the importance of cooperation and team work.
Students will learn what working conditions were like in the 1800's.
Time Allotment: 1 day
A. Brainstorm - Ask students to identify the types of jobs that people work at now.
Write these on the board. Are they similar to the jobs that people did back when
they celebrated Labor Day for the first time? Do we still have cause to celebrate our
B. Discussion - Discuss with the students the working conditions that people were
forced to work under in the 1800's. Discuss with them child labor and how there
were no laws against children working. Ask the students how they would feel if they
were forced to go to work instead of being able to go to school, which was a
privilege then. Discuss with the students the importance of doing a good job and
being proud of the work you have done. Explain to the students that this was the
reason that we celebrate Labor Day, because laborers are proud of the work that
they do. Discuss the importance of cooperation and team work. This applies not
only to school and learning, but to the work environment also. Discuss how having a
National Holiday brings a country together because it is an experience we all have in
C. Listing - As a class, list rules or laws that would have helped to improve the
working conditions in the 1800's.
D. Group Cooperation - Divide the class into groups of three or four. Assign the
students a task that requires a great deal of cooperation. Explain to them how it is
important when they join the work force to be able to cooperate with their co-
Questions asked to students during the discussion are a way of assessing.
Responses to the listing activity will be assessed.
Monitoring of the groups during cooperation activity is a way of assessing.
Christopher Columbus was born during the fifteenth century in Genoa, Italy.
Christopher loved the sea. By the time he was 16 he knew how to navigate a sailing
vessel and had taken a voyage to Iceland. He then became a master map maker. At
that time, some well-educated people believe that the world was round and
Christopher Columbus was one of them. He wanted the opportunity to sail straight
into the horizon and prove his theory. He believed that he would come back to his
starting point and not fall off the edge of the world, as many people believed.
Columbus was given three ships by the Queen and King of Spain to test his
theory. He set sail on August 3, 1492. The journey was a long and dangerous one.
On October 11, they spotted land. Columbus arrived at what is now known as the
Bahamas. He thought that he had reached India and therefore called the natives
"Indians". For ten days Columbus and his men explored the islands. He then set sail
back to Spain and took back with him six native Indians, plus parrots and other
animals from the new world.
In 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation asked that October 12
(the day that Columbus arrived in the New World) be observed as a National Holiday.
Students will identify the steps in Columbus' journey and discovery of America.
Students will learn the importance of using compasses.
Students will write about discovering their own country.
Time Allotment: 2 days
Poem entitled Christopher Columbus (see appendix).
Materials to make a compass.
Bowl of water
A. Discussion - Discuss with the students in depth the details of Christopher
Columbus' journey to the New World. Discuss with them the trials he went through
before and after his journey. Discuss with the students why pilgrims came to this
country. Discuss with the students why we recognize Columbus as a hero.
B. Choral Reading - Divide the class into 8 groups. Have each group read a stanza
of the poem Christopher Columbus (see appendix). Discuss with the students the
different locations mentioned in this poem, along with unfamiliar words.
C. Columbus Day Compass - You will need: 1 small bowl of water, magnets, needles,
and corks. To make this compass rub the magnet over the needle 50 times in the
same direction to magnetize the needle. Put the needle into the cork and place it into
the bowl of water. Turn the cork in many directions and let it go. It will always come
to rest pointing north. Discuss with the students the type of compass that Columbus
used. Discuss with the students way that we can find our way without the use of
compasses (stars, moss on trees, etc.)
D. Discovering Your Own Country - Students will imagine that they are explorers who
have set sail to discover a new country. Have the students write in their journals
describing what the country that they have discovered will look like; what type of
animals, plants, and people they will discover; and what they will do after they
discover the country. Have the students draw a map of what their country will look
Participation in choral reading will be assessed.
Journal activity will be assessed (for thought and detail).
Veteran's Day is celebrated on November 11th and has been observed for
many years. Prior to 1954, it was called Armistice Day. The very first Armistice Day
occurred on November 11, 1918. This day signified the day that the peace treaty
was signed by Germany and the Allies, ending World War I. An armistice is a truce or
cease fire just before the signing of a peace treaty.
On the very first Armistice Day, journalist George Honey, an Australian, called
for two minutes of silence as the peace treaty was signed. This tradition of a "Great
Silence" is continued today. There are also numerous parades held on this day to
celebrate Veterans from World War II, the Korean Wars, and the Vietnam War. Flags
are flown in public places. Artificial poppies are sold by Veterans on this day. They
are symbols of the soldiers who have not died in vain. The money raised from these
poppies is used to help wounded war veterans. Many ceremonies at tombs of
soldiers take place on this day also.
Armistice Day was changed to Veteran's Day because veterans wanted
November 11th to be a day honoring soldiers of all wars in which Americans fought,
not just World War I. This was changed on May 24, 1954 by an act of Congress and
signed into law on June 1, 1954 by President Eisenhower.
Students will identify the reasons that Veteran's Day is celebrated.
Students will learn about being involved in a war.
Students will identify the ways that we remember those who have died in wars.
Students will identify different types of military uniforms and what they stand
Time Allotment: 1 to 2 days
Red Crepe Paper
Green Pipe Cleaners
A. Discussion - Discuss with the students the importance of having respect for those
who have fought bravely for their country. Discuss how Veteran's Day is a day to
pay thanks to those who have fought in wars for the United States.
B. Guest Speaker - Have a guest speaker come and talk about their experiences
being a veteran, and their experiences in the war. Contact your local VFW Hall for
further help and information.
C. Let's Make Poppies - Would you like to make poppies to wear and give to your
friends on Memorial Day? It is easy to do. You will need only a few supplies.
Red crepe paper and green pipe cleaners. Cut out two four-inch circles of crepe paper
for each poppy. Put one circle over the other. Make two holes in the center, going through
both circles. Put the end of a pipe cleaner up through one hole, bend it, and bring it down
through the other. Twist to tie. The long end of the pipe cleaner is the stem. You can put it in your
buttonhole. Smooth the crepe paper petals of the poppy.
D. Design Your Own Flag - Have the students design their own flag that is a
representation of them, just as our flat is a representation of our country. Have the
students present the flags to the class and tell what their flag stands for.
E. Display of Uniforms - If possible, have different uniforms worn by soldiers on
display for the class to see. Discuss the different uniforms and metals for each one.
If possible have a veteran come in and share these with the students.
Participation during discussion and guest speaker will be assessed.
Design and representation on flag will be assessed.
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