Why do we celebrate Presidents Day? Here's how to involve your kids

Hail to the Chief.

That’s what Presidents’ Day on February 18 is all about.

Simple. But the history and timing of the day offering a break from school for many kids is a bit more complicated.

Officially the U.S. federal holiday’s name is Washington’s Birthday, established in the late 1800s to mark contributions of the first American president on his birthday, Feb. 22. The day later expanded to honor Abraham Lincoln, who was born on Feb. 12.

Eventually, the third Monday of February, between the statesmen’s birthdays, became a day to salute them and all past and present U.S. commanders-in-chief. Whitehouse.gov notes, that was “the result of the 1968 law mandating that a number of federal holidays occur on Mondays.”

This long weekend, make the most of the day’s significance.

“The meaning and value of ... Presidents' Day is often lost in the shuffle of just a day or or sales at stores,” Seattle presidential historian and blogger Mike Purdy, who writes presidentialhistory.com , told TODAY Parents.

“What we need to remember,” he added, “is that we wouldn't have the incredible opportunities and society we do today without the men who have served as president over the last almost 230 years.”

The following activities offer age-appropriate, kid-friendly ways to check out presidential history.

Fun ways to the kids busy over the long Presidents' Day weekend

Play with your children. Let them choose the activity, and don't worry about rules. Just go with the flow and have fun. That's the name of the game.

Pre-K & Kindergarten: Picture-perfect pastime

Around Presidents’ Day, the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., sees a visitor uptick, spokesperson Linda St. Thomas, told TODAY Parents. “I think people go to the Obama portrait ... and then see all the others.”

Printable coloring pages of presidents at crayola.com and education.com enable budding young artists and historians to create their own at-home gallery.

Make some space on the fridge, moms and dads.

Grade school: Read all about ’em

Kids enjoy reading stories about other kids — and every U.S. president was a child once. “Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents” blends breezy text and fun illustrations as it connects that past with the present.

“The life of someone who lived in the 19th Century can seem very distant to a 10-year-old in 2019,” Brooklyn writer Robert Schnakenberg, whose kids books alias is David Stabler , told TODAY. “But if you identify common experiences: going to school, dealing with bullies, getting along with your family, and so on, it makes it more relatable.” Check your local library or get his book on Amazon .

"Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America's Presidents," by David Stabler, $10, Amazon

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Tina Fey (mom to daughter Alice): “I think every working mom probably feels the same thing: You go through big chunks of time where you’re just thinking, ‘This is impossible - oh, this is impossible.’ And then you just keep going and keep going, and you sort of do the impossible.”

"Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America's Presidents" by David Stabler


Middle school: Maximize mini bios

Even kids with short attention spans can expand White House knowledge thanks to PBS and Learning Media’s “60-Second Presidents” series.

In just about a minute, the pint-sized bios turn clever narration, sly pop-ups and goofy graphics into a quick-fire histories — successes and scandals, major accomplishments and minutiae of commanders in chief.

Activities for kids this President's Day weekend: Bubble wrap painting, PlayTape and obstacle courses

High school: Deep dive into a lesser-known president

Presidents' Day is a perfect time “focus on learning about one president,” said Purdy. “Some became president almost by accident while others campaigned hard for the office.”

Who’s who? Online sources and virtual tours offer insights.

“The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden,” a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, showcases Oval Office occupants along with information on their era and personal effects.

The Miller Center at the University of Virginia and the American Presidency Project at the University of California are “two sites that do a great job of pulling together comprehensive information about the presidents,” added Purdy.

Watch Jenna Bush Hager's full interview with Michelle Obama

Full listening. Try to increase those times that you give your child your undivided attention and are really listening. This does not mean dropping everything every time she speaks.