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Presidents' Day:

George Washington: One-Act Plays

 

Today's snack: If you're celebrating Presidents' Day, and zeroing in on our first and, some would say, greatest President, then of course you have to have cherries!

If you can't find fresh cherries in the grocery store, it's always fun to put maraschino cherries inside thin pineapple rings.

Remember the old story about how he chopped down one of his father's extra-special cherry trees, and when confronted, owned up to it, saying, "I cannot tell a lie"? Well, it's apparently a . . . lie. Or, at least, apparently a made-up story.

Historians are convinced that the story was invented to illustrate Washington's honesty and build support for him among the people. Our first President's honesty is a well-documented fact, and it doesn't matter what his "PR" machine might have done - he really WAS a great man, and honest.

Admitting your mistakes is a good lesson, anyway. And if you remember nothing else about America's Numero Uno, remember that he was a stand-up guy, someone you should be proud to "be" in this fun little drama activity.

 

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The first American president was one of the greatest people ever to walk the face of the Earth. Kids should know about George Washington, often called "The Father of Our Country," the person for whom we named the capital city of our nation, Washington, D.C. Putting together some brief, creative one-act plays about his life would be a great way to make sure they know who Washington was.

Here's how to put on three related one-act plays based on Washington's life. It works best with four or five students. But you can pull it off with one child and one "stage assistant." The important thing to add is: an audience! You can vary the supplies listed below based on the number of participants. This is assuming there will be five kids in the "troupe."

 

Things to gather in advance:

 

Large cardboard box

Utility knife

Plastic tape, Scotch tape and hot-glue gun

Green construction paper, or green paint, or green crepe paper

Red construction paper, paint or crepe paper

Foil

Markers or paint

Two large dowels and two short ones

String or twine

Stick horse(s)

Baby powder

Covered elastic bands for hair

Rags

Two stretchy headbands

Two large fake feathers, or clumps of smaller ones

Adult-size shirts, including at least one navy blue or black one, or a pea coat

White tights or knee socks

Red or gold belt or fabric

Black felt pirate's hat, turned inside out

Black construction paper to make shoe "buckles"

Navy blue sheet or fabric

Large (1 foot square?) clear plastic air-filled packing squares

American flag

 

Scenery and Props. Perhaps the adult should do the cutting in advance, or do it with the kids looking on. Slit the cardboard box with the utility knife so that it lays flat. On the side with no printing, using the right half, cut a large tree with the utility knife. Out of the remainder, cut a boat. Out of the scraps, cut a hatchet and two muskets. Decorate with paint, markers, construction paper or crepe paper, so that you end up with a cherry tree, a simple boat, a silver (foil?) hatchet, and two Revolutionary War-style muskets.

 

Costumes. For George Washington, fashion a ponytail and sprinkle baby powder on the child's head, being careful not to let the child breathe it in or get it in his or her eyes; put on black felt pirate's hat; the navy or black shirt and belt with fabric; roll up the child's pants to just below the knees so that white socks cover the shins; cut out construction paper "boots" and/or black paper "buckles" and tape over shoes.

 

For the battle scenes, if you get really fancy, you could fashion ornamental epaulets for George's shoulders out of construction paper and tape on, and a red or gold cummerbund signifying that he was the commander.

 

For George's father, you could do much the same thing, only with a taller child.

 

For two Native Americans, put headbands on and stick a feather to the side or back; they can wear the adult shirt and their own pants or tights as "leggings."

 

For two soldiers, "dress" with rags, including tying rags around stocking feet as "boots."

 

For the Indians' bows and arrows, tie string or twine on the top and bottom of the larger dowel, and fashion arrowheads out of paper and tape to the end of the smaller dowels. Make sure to warn the child to be really careful that they don't poke anyone's eye out with the sharp sticks; perhaps they could just pretend to shoot the arrows and not really release them.

 

Action. When young George Washington cuts down the cherry tree with the hatchet, you could have a child holding up the "tree" fall down to the side in a humorous way.

 

The Indians and soldiers in the second play can act out surprise and fear as they aim right at George Washington, riding his stick horse, but can never hit him. Then they all get shot in the end, and they'll enjoy acting that scene out to the max.

 

To "cross" the Delaware River in the third play, have two "stage assistants" or children hold the navy-blue sheet low to the ground. Place several air-filled plastic packing bags on it to serve as "ice." Shake the fabric slightly to resemble watery waves. George Washington, in the front of the boat, and the soldiers behind him, one lifting high the American flag, all carry the boat over the icy "river" to carry out their battle plan.

 

If you have enough children, you could appoint a narrator to tell most of the story, but give George Washington a few lines. Basic stories for each of the plays:

 

1.      Cherry Tree

 

This is apparently not a true story, but it is traditionally told to show George Washington's honesty. When he was a little boy, he had a toy hatchet on his farm in Virginia. He went all around the farm chopping at things, removing the bark from scrub trees and so forth. It was harmless fun. But then one day, he saw his father's expensive young cherry tree, imported from England. He couldn't resist temptation. He chopped it down! When his father came home, he went into a rage. He demanded to know who had chopped down his favorite tree. Little George stepped right forward. "Father, I cannot tell a lie. It was I, with my little hatchet." George's father cut him a break, saying, "The fact that you told me the truth, right away, is worth more to me than a thousand trees, even if they had leaves of gold and bark of silver!"

 

2.      Miraculous Survival Through Battle

 

When George Washington was a young adult, he was in charge of some soldiers in the French and Indian War. They were greatly outnumbered by Frenchmen and Indians in one battle. But George Washington bravely led the troops to hang in there. He had two horses shot out from under him, but he kept on fighting. In the end, his side won. Everyone was amazed at how his coat had four bullet holes in it, and yet he hadn't been wounded - not a scratch on him. The Indians later said that they kept shooting their arrows right at him, because they could tell he was the leader, but they could never hit him, so they got scared and ran away. Some say this was evidence that the hand of God was on George Washington, keeping him alive so that he could go on to lead the way toward our country's birth.

 

3.      Crossing the Delaware

 

During the Revolutionary War, the American soldiers did not have very good supplies, compared to the British. In fact, money had run out for them to even have decent uniforms. It was winter in New England, and very cold. Some of them had only rags to wear, including rags wrapped around their feet instead of boots. But George Washington figured out how to surprise the British and win a big victory that encouraged the ragtag army. He waited until Christmas night, when the British had been feasting and partying all day, and were fast asleep, probably because they had been drinking alcohol. Washington figured they would not bother to have watchmen since it was Christmas Night. He was right! He got his soldiers into small boats and crossed the icy Delaware River. They were completely undetected by the British, and so George Washington's soldiers won a huge victory that was a turning point in the war.

 

For more about George Washington: www.eagleforum.org/educate/washington/conduct.html

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.AfterSchoolTreats.com Holidays & Seasons 14 2008

 

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