Behind the Scenes: The Making of “I See the President”

By Shira Gladstone

Despite having years of experience in visitor education at numerous historic house museums, until recently I had never created a school program from start to finish. So when Callie Hawkins, Curator of Education at President Lincoln’s Cottage, asked me last year to co-create a new school program with her for our site I was very excited! While our two well-established school programs – “Lincoln’s Hat” and “Debating Emancipation” – have been very successful, our site was missing a program directed towards fourth and fifth graders. Callie and I felt that the focus of this new program should be on President Lincoln’s daily commute between the Soldiers’ Home and the White House, an important aspect of Lincoln’s life at the Cottage. Before we determined the outcomes for this program, we researched both national and local standards of learning to ensure that it would match the educational development of fourth and fifth grade students. After talking with teachers and examining various standards of learning it was clear that we could use the story of President Lincoln’s commute to highlight the importance of primary sources and multiple perspectives, and use the activity to strengthen students’ creative writing skills.

Students look at primary sources in the “Commute Chronicle.”

One thing I learned is that when preparing an activity for school children every detail requires consideration and time. Not only did we deliberate on the program’s logistics, but we were constantly working to make the content age appropriate. I never realized how much effort goes into writing handouts that fourth and fifth graders will understand! In addition, we needed to create specialized tours, of the Cottage and one of the exhibit galleries, which supported the program’s focus and were on fourth and fifth grade educational levels. It was also interesting to see the amount of team work this project required. Callie and I met many times to plan everything out, but more than that, we could not make it all happen on our own. We needed to utilize the skills of other staff members and volunteers in order to do things such as create the design of the booklets and construct our role-playing props from scratch!

I was a little nervous that school groups might not connect with the program as we had hoped, but now that classes have completed the program and gave us extensive feedback we know that our efforts were entirely worth it – we created an innovative program that is as enjoyable as it is educational. We will continue to tweak the program to improve it and keep it fresh, but Callie and I are excited that President Lincoln’s Cottage now has another educational offering that will allow us to reach some of our most impressionable visitors!

For a full program description and to learn how you can book this program for your 4th and 5th graders, visit www.lincolncottage.org.

Ms. Gladstone is a Lead Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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