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Family Fun: Be a presidential scholar for the holiday

 (MOLLY QUINN / THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
(MOLLY QUINN / THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Monday is Presidents Day. That means a day off from school, but it doesn’t have to mean a day off from learning. So, spend some time getting to know the presidents.

Happy Birthday, George: The official federal holiday is Washington’s Birthday for our first president. After George Washington’s death in 1799, people used his birthday – Feb. 22 – as a day of remembrance. It became a federal holiday in 1885. In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect, moving the celebration of Washington’s birthday from the fixed date of Feb. 22 to the third Monday of February.

This was seen in part as a way to combine recognition of Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is Feb. 12. But, the day continued to be called Washington’s birthday. With the switch to the third Monday, the holiday never falls on Washington or Lincoln’s birthdays, nor that of the other two presidents born in February: William Henry Harrison (Feb. 9) and Ronald Reagan (Feb. 6).

Fact and fiction: Two of the things many Americans think they know about our first president aren’t true.

That story about young Washington not being able to tell a lie after cutting down a cherry tree with his new hatchet? Pure myth created by one of his early biographers, Mason Locke Weems. It was first published in the fifth edition of “The Life of Washington.”

And those wooden dentures? Well, Washington did have dental troubles and wore dentures, but not made of wood. Instead, his different sets of false teeth were made of a combination of animal and human teeth, lead and ivory. Mount Vernon, Washington’s estate in Virginia, has a set on display. You can visit the estate virtually at mountvernon.org to learn more.

Presidential home: Washington never lived at the White House, but he did select its site in 1791. The nation’s second president, John Adams, and his wife, Abigail Adams, moved in on Nov. 1, 1800. Every president has lived there since.

Theodore Roosevelt officially named the building the White House in 1901. It has, of course, been renovated and added on to over the years. At just under 55,000 square feet, it’s bigger than your average family home, with 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and 28 fireplaces.

To learn more about the White House, visit whitehouse.gov. The website also includes short biographies of each of the presidents and information about the first families.

To take a virtual tour of the White House, visit 360virtualtour.co/portfolio/the-white-house-google-virtual-tour.

Read a book: There are scores and scores of books written about the presidents.

If you want to learn about the presidents before they were famous, check out “Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood From America’s Presidents” by David Stabler. As the name says, there are stories about several of the presidents as children. For instance, James Garfield was the last president who was born in a log cabin, in 1831. And Grover Cleveland earned $50 a year working as a clerk in a general store.

The childhood stories make the presidents seem more relatable, said Janelle Smith, owner of Wishing Tree Books.

“Kids have so much potential but often struggle to understand that everyone was once a kid their age – not famous, just a kid,” she said.

Another book she recommends is “The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents” by Kate Messner.

And, to learn about the current president and vice president, there are the children’s books “Joey: The Story of Joe Biden” by Jill Biden and “Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice” by Nikki Grimes.

Write a letter: Tell the president what’s important to you and your family. The White House recommends email (there’s a contact form at whitehouse.gov/contact).

If you want to send a letter, the White House asks that you type or write neatly on a 8½-by-11-inch piece of paper and include your return address both on the envelope and the letter. Send the letter to: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20500.

Sources: history.com, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (mountvernon.org), the White House (whitehouse.gov)

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