George Washington Background Information for Teachers and Parents
This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about George Washington. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie. It explains the type of content covered in the movie George Washington, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.
Many children have studied or read about George Washington and the birth of the United States. There are many stories about this historical leader, but not all of them are true. Some are wildly exaggerated and others are more legend than fact. We recommend encouraging your children to ask questions about his life and explore the answers themselves using the countless biographies, histories, and other resources available at your local library. Many of his letters, journals, and notes are readily available online as well. This movie will explore his life, including his birth, the American Revolutionary War, and his path to becoming the first president of the United States.
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732 to planters in Virginia. Remind your children that Virginia was one of the thirteen colonies, which were under the rule of George III, the king of Great Britain. Young George did not attend school, but instead was educated by his father and older brother. He received an equivalent of an elementary school education. He excelled at math and geometry and at seventeen he applied his knowledge and skills as a surveyor. A surveyor is a person who records the boundaries of different properties. Washington spent weeks in the wilderness recording tracks of land and creating maps of the area. He learned ways to survive in the wilderness and became familiar with the native peoples that lived in different areas.
In 1754, the British and French began fighting over territory in North America, and thus began the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years’ War. Washington joined the British army, and was quickly promoted to major and then to lieutenant colonel. A skilled cartographer, Washington was able to draw maps for soldiers to navigate the area. Washington left the British army and returned to civilian life. In 1759, he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow with two children. Washington was well respected in the community as a war hero and a large landowner, and in 1758 he was elected to the House of Burgesses, Virginia’s provincial legislature.
As an elected official, Washington spoke out against British rule. He opposed taxation without representation; British parliament taxed the colonies, but colonists could not elect their own leaders. He believed that the colonies should separate from Great Britain and become independent. In 1775 fighting broke out between colonists and British soldiers and Washington was chosen to lead the Continental Army as commander-in-chief.
Many children learn about a few noteworthy moments of the American Revolutionary War. On Christmas Day of 1776, Washington led his men across the frozen Delaware River and took the opposition by surprise at the Battle of Trenton. In 1777, Washington and his men camped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania for six months. He lost a quarter of his men to disease, starvation, and freezing temperatures. Washington rallied his men, encouraging them to persevere and that the fight for independence was well worth the hardships. In 1778 the French joined forces with the colonists, and together in 1781 they helped to defeat the British at the Battle of Yorktown, in Virginia, ending the Revolutionary War.
Washington was elected as the first president of the United States in 1789. He is the only president in U.S. history to be elected unanimously. As president he had many decisions to make to lead the fledgling country. He was opposed to political parties and appointed people with differing opinions to high-level positions. He was known for listening to different points of view before making important decisions. During his presidency, he oversaw the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Remind your children that the Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. It explains certain freedoms such as the right to free speech and religion. Washington was re-elected unanimously for a second term, but when people encouraged him to run for a third term, he refused. He decided that the country should be led by different people. Washington set a precedent, or an example to be followed by others. However, it was only after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected three times that the precedent became law.
When he left the presidency, he moved back to his estate at Mount Vernon. He died of pneumonia on December 14, 1799. Remind your children that we celebrate Washington’s life in many ways. His head is on the quarter and on the dollar bill. His face is carved on Mount Rushmore, and the Washington Monument was erected in his honor. Furthermore, streets, parks, and schools have been named after him to keep his memory alive. Encourage your children to think of other ways people celebrate George Washington’s life.