The History of Presidents’ Day: Childhoods for Kids

So in the United States today is President’s Day. Presidents Day is a day we celebrate the life and presidencies of individuals who served in the highest political office in our country. Today we thought it would be fun to focus on a part of their lives that is often overlooked — their childhoods. And I am lucky to know some of the smartest people who know a lot about the lives of the Presidents! Most of this material came from Brittany at The American Moms. Check them out on Instagram or their website theamericanmoms.com. They always share great ideas about how you can teach and inspire your kids. So once again, a big thanks to Brittany at The American Moms for all of the awesome research.

So even though all of these individuals rose to the highest office in the United States government, many of them came from very little. Most of us know about Abraham Lincoln. If you don’t know about his childhood, check out our episode about Honest Abe, because we go into a lot more detail there. But he lost his mother at a very young age and often was left alone by his father to take care of his little sister in the woods of Kentucky. He had to teach himself to read and didn’t go to a normal school. He had to learn to become a lawyer all by himself, and he still became the President of the United States. That’s pretty amazing, right?

Andrew Jackson was the 7th President of the United States. The year before Andrew Jackson was born his family immigrated (that means moved) to America from Ireland. Sadly, his father died just after Andrew was born and his mother hoped Andrew would become a minister in their church, but he was a pretty wild kid and that continued until he was an adult, so becoming a minister didn’t work out. When the American Revolution started — that is the war where American fought for it’s freedom from Great Britain — Andrew and his two brothers joined the war. Andrew was only 13-years old! Can you believe that? Sadly, during the war he lost one of his brothers and Andrew and his other brother was captured by the enemy, the British. While they were prisoners they became very sick with smallpox. Eventually, their mother arranged for their release and they were set free.

Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States. Millard was also born to a very poor family. Like Abraham Lincoln he was born in a log cabin to a family of farmers who often couldn’t feed him and his brothers and sisters. Because they didn’t have any money they sent Millard to be an apprentice cloth maker. An apprentice is someone who is in training by an expert clother maker in this case. While Millard worked there they paid his family a little so they could have food to eat. But as an apprentice Millard was treated badly. They worked him very hard. Eventually Millard saved up some money and bought himself his freedom. Then he walked 100 miles back to his family farm! From there on out he decided to educate himself and was so desperate to learn sometimes he stole books! It was a rough life, but he was dedicated to learning so he didn’t have to be poor and hungry like his parents. Like Abraham Lincoln, Millard taught himself to become a lawyer and became very successful at it. Often we think we can only learn by going to school, but that is not true! The people who become the best learners teach themselves things. You can do that, too! And believe it or not some day school will end, but it’s important to enjoy learning and keep on learning anyway!

James Garfield was the 20th President of the United States. As an adult he once said: “I never meet a ragged boy in the street without feeling that I may owe him a salute, for I know not what possibilities may be buttoned up under his coat.” Whe he meant was that even those you might see someone who doesn’t look like they could do much in life as a child, you never know and shouldn’t judge them by appearances. 


James was born in Ohio. He lost his father when he was only two-years-old. As the youngest, his mother and siblings were super protective of him, but had great hopes for him. They knew that whatever happened, James had to have an education. They did whatever they could to make it happen, saving every penny to send him to school. His mom even convinced local leaders to build a schoolhouse on her property, since that was the only way her children would ever receive an education. She really cared about their education!

But she was very sad when James quit school and went to work for a canal company. A canal is a man-made river that boats can move things up and down. Although James had never seen the ocean, he was fascinated by it. And working on a canal boat was the closest thing to his dream. 


Although James worked on the water, he had never learned how to swim. One night while working, he fell in the canal and almost drowned. Miraculously, he grabbed a hold of a rope and pulled himself in. The rope never should have been there and as James said “I took it as a sign that God had bigger plans for me.”

After this experience James returned home and decided to go back to school. He worked as a janitor and things began to improve for him. He quickly rose to the top of his class and was asked to be a teacher the next year. 

Theodore (or Teddy) Roosevelt was the 26th POTUS. When he was little his family was wealthy, unlike many of the other presidents, but Teddy was always very sick. Often his kind father would carry him around at night or take him on carriage rides while he was coughing. His mother tried to be very protective of Teddy, but his father took a different path. His father said he needed to work his body to become stronger rather than stay inside. Teddy spent much of his childhood exploring the woods, studying out the creatures around their home, drawing pictures of them. Later he went on to become a very smart man who knew a lot about nature and animals. He started museums because of his love for science. He also created the first National Parks to protect wildlife and nature. In his teenage years he spent a lot of time living what he called “the strenuous life.” He lifted weights and boxed and ran and worked hard to become stronger. Eventually, his sickness went away and he became a strong and courageous man. He became known for his rough lifestyle and love for adventure.

Spend some time thinking about these incredible people and what they went through as children. Even though they had very little or had hard childhoods they were able to teach themselves, work hard and do great things. Teddy Roosevelt exercised and explored the natural world around him. That helped him grow. Think about what you can do to improve your situation like these presidents did. As children they are no different than you. But the choices they made, made all the difference. For you it might be setting a goal to read a little more, or finding a new hobby that interests you, or helping a sibling who needs you. All of these little steps each day make a difference and change your character in ways that will last a lifetime.

I hoped you learned some new things about presidents. I know I did! A big thanks again to Brittany at The American Moms. Be sure to check them out! Have a Happy Presidents Day and talk to you next time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *