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Civil War Lesson for Kids

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Abraham Lincoln & the Civil War Lesson for Kids

Abraham Lincoln & the Civil War Lesson for Kids

This is the 25th lesson in a series of 27 hands-on lessons covering U.S. American History through 1865. This lesson focuses on Abraham Lincoln, the Southern States (Confederate States of America), & the soldiers of the Civil War. I used this plan while teaching a 45 minute history class for children in Kindergarten, 1st, & 2nd grades. Each lesson includes a biography report, history notebook page, history song, our favorite children's books, YouTube video, a history joke, & a variety of hands-on activities to make each lesson engaging & memorable. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, homeschool, after-school program, or co-op!

Civil War Johnny Cake Batter

Civil War Johnny Cake Batter

Johnny Cakes & Civil War Soldiers

1. Allow children to assist in mixing together Civil War Johnny Cakes (with added sugar):

  • In a large microwaveable mixing bowl, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in the microwave (for about 20 seconds).
  • Add in 2 cups of cornmeal, 1 heaping tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of milk, and 2 tablespoons of hot (boiling or almost boiling) water.
  • Allow each child a change to add in something and to stir 5 times.
  • Talking points: As children are helping to make this, be sure to point out that the cornmeal would have come from ground up corn. The sugar wouldn't have been added, but we're adding it to make it taste better. The milk & butter would have come from a cow.
  • You will need an adult helper to either read the below book or to make the johnny cakes.
  • While the children listen to the below book, an adult (either you or an adult assistant) will cook the johnny cakes by dropping spoonfuls onto a hot griddle or skillet that's been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (or use butter). If desired, flatten them slightly with the back of a spoon. When brown, turn and cook the other side. Be sure to spray or grease the griddle or skillet before each batch.

You will need:

  • kitchen tools: microwaveable mixing bowl, 1 cup measuring cup, measuring spoons, mixing spoon, rubber scraper, griddle or skillet, & plate or pant (for holding the finished johnny cakes)
  • ingredients: 4 tablespoons of butter, 2 cups of cornmeal, 1 heaping tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of milk, 2 tablespoons of hot (boiling or almost boiling) water, & non-stick cooking spray
  • an adult helper

2. Read the main part of You Wouldn't Want to Be a Civil War Soldier! by Thomas M Ratliff.

You will need:

  • You Wouldn't Want to Be a Civil War Soldier! by Thomas M Ratliff or other book giving an overview of the war and soldier's lives
Student biography presentation on Abraham Lincoln

Student biography presentation on Abraham Lincoln

Student Biography Presentation: Abraham Lincoln

3. Student biography presentation on Abraham Lincoln

Review & Presidents Song

4. Review: Which trail did many pioneers took to travel out West? (Oregon Trail) In what state did the 1848 gold rush occur? (California) Who invented the cotton gin? (Eli Whitney) Who had been a slave and then helped hundreds of other slaves escape? (Harriet Tubman) What was the Underground Railroad? (The route slaves would take while escaping.) How would they know which direction was north? (Following the North Star/Polaris) What was an abolitionist? (Someone who wanted to abolish or end slavery.) Name a famous abolitionist. (Sojourner Truth, Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, & others) Many abolitionists were of what religion? (Quaker) What was a woman's suffragist? (Someone who thought women should have the right to vote.) Name a famous women's suffragist. (Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, & others)

5. Now let's go through all the Presidents. Sing through the entire song 2 times while either showing the video or flipping through pictures of the Presidents. (Be sure to add in "Donald Trump" at the end.)

You will need:

  • Screen to show the below video or a book showing Presidents or point to their pictures on a President place mat

U.S. Presidents Song

Enjoying Civil War Johnny Cakes

Enjoying Civil War Johnny Cakes

Tasting Johnny Cakes

6. Allow children to each have a Johnny Cake. Mention that this is what Civil War soldiers ate quite a bit of the time, but ours are tastier since they have sugar. Have they noticed that early Americans at a lot of cornmeal? As they eat their Johnny Cakes, you can begin to talk about the creation of the Confederate States of America (described below).

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Confederate money replicas

Confederate money replicas

The Confederate States of America: A New Country

7. The Southern States were feeling like a a completely different country for the Northern States.

  • [Show a picture of a cotton plantation.] Thanks to Eli Whitney's cotton gin, they had lots of cotton plantations with lots of slaves. The North had lots of factories.
  • [Show a picture of the Transcontinental Railroad.] There were railroad tracks like the Transcontinental Railroad to connect some states, but most of them only connected the Northern & Western States. The Southern states felt isolated.
  • [Show a picture of slaves.] The Southern States wanted to make sure that states could make their own rules & not have the main government make them do things they didn't want to do (called states rights). They wanted to make sure they could keep slaves.
  • [Show a picture of Abraham Lincoln.] They were concerned that if Abraham Lincoln became President, he'd encourage laws that would take away their rights to own slaves. Even though not a single Southern state voted for Abraham Lincoln to become President, he was elected President. The Southern states felt like their votes and rights didn't matter.
  • Many of those living in the Southern states felt like they had followed Romans 14:19, which says, "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." They were going to quietly leave to keep peace.
  • [Show a picture of a map with the electoral college votes from this election.] After Abraham Lincoln was elected President, many of the Southern states seceded. That means they said, "We're going to become our own country." They became a new country called, "The Confederate States of America."
  • [Show a picture of Jefferson Davis.] The Confederate States of America was a new country, so they needed a new President. They chose Jefferson Davis.
  • [Pass around replicas of Confederate money or show a picture of it.] They needed new money.
  • [Pass out the words to Dixie.] They needed their own song. They loved to sing Dixie. Let's sing it 2 times. [Children can join in on the chorus lines.] [After singing, children can put the words in their history folders.]


I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten,
Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land.
In Dixie Land where I was born in, early on a frosty mornin',
Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land.

Then I wish I was in Dixie, hooray! hooray!
In Dixie Land I'll take my stand to live and die in Dixie,
Away, away, away down South in Dixie,
Away, away, away down South in Dixie

  • [Show a picture of the first Confederate Flag.] They needed a new flag.

You will need:

  • pictures of a cotton plantation, the Transcontinental Railroad, slaves, Abraham Lincoln, a map with the electoral college votes from this election, Jefferson Davis, Confederate money (or show replicas of it), & the first Confederate Flag
  • words to Dixie printed on a half sheet of paper, punched with a 3 hole punch
  • optional: Confederate money (can be purchased from amazon .com or from gift shops at some state parks)
Painting the first Confederate flag

Painting the first Confederate flag

Confederate Flags

8. Discuss 3 of the Confederate Flags:

  • Show a picture of the first Confederate flag, the Stars & Bars. It looked too much like American flag. That got really confusing in the battlefield.
  • Show a picture of the second Confederate flag. It was too white. What does a white flag mean? You're giving up. A white flag is a flag of truce. That got too confusing too,
  • Show a picture of the "Dixie Flag.” Lots of people today think this was the Confederate Flag. It wasn't ever the Confederate flag. It was just a North Virginia flag used by Robert E. Lee & it was a 2nd Confederate Navy Jack flag.

You will need:

  • pictures of the first Confederate flag (the Stars & Bars), the second Confederate flag, & the Dixie flag

9. Allow children to paint the first Confederate Flag, the States & Bars.

  • Allow children to put on old t-shirts or smocks to protect their clothing.
  • Cover the table with newspaper or a plastic table cover.
  • I modeled for them step by step on what to paint. Some of the children followed my directions & some of them didn't.
  • After these dry, they can go in their history notebooks.

You will need for each child:

  • a paintbrushes
  • white heavy paper (like cardstock), punched with a 3 hold punch
  • smocks/old t-shirts to protect clothing (I had parents bring them from home & brought in a few extras.)
  • blue, red, & white poster board/tempera/finger paint

You will also need:

  • something to cover the table (newspaper or plastic table cloth)
  • small disposable plates or bowls to hold the paint
  • plastic shoe box bin with water in it for paintbrushes after you're finished (optional)

10. As children are finishing their flag paintings, review. The Southern states seceded & became their own country after which man was elected President? (Abraham Lincoln) What country name did the Southern States pick for themselves? (Confederate States of America) What was their first flag called? (Stars & Bars) Describe something that you learned about the life of a Civil War solider. (Answers can vary) What is something Civil War soldiers frequently ate? (johnny cakes)

11. Assign next week's student biography presentation on Robert E. Lee.

We read through stacks of books. These were our 7 favorite books on Abraham Lincoln:

  • Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Doreen Rappaport
  • I am Abraham Lincoln (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad Meltzer
  • Abe Lincoln Loved Animals by Ellen Jackson
  • Women Who Broke the Rules: Mary Todd Lincoln by Kathleen Krull
  • Mr. Lincoln's Boys: Being the Mostly True Adventures of Abraham Lincoln's Trouble-Making Sons, Tad and Willie by Staton Rabin
  • Thanksgiving in the White House by Gary Hines
  • Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country) by Kathleen Krull

Abraham Lincoln ~ Animated Hero Classics

Abraham Lincoln image credit: https://www.pinterest .jp/pin/212795151126894171/

Abraham Lincoln image credit: https://www.pinterest .jp/pin/212795151126894171/

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Pilgrims Lesson
Thirteen Colonies Lesson
French and Indian War Lesson
Colonial Period & Revolution Rumblings Lesson
Boston Massacre & Boston Tea Party Lesson
First Shots & Declaration of Independence Lesson
American War for Independence Battles Lesson
Valley Forge & Battle of Yorktown Lesson
American Literature Lesson & American War for Independence Review
Colonial Christmas Party
Constitution Lesson
Three Branches of Government Lesson
President George Washington Lesson
Louisiana Purchase Lesson
War of 1812 Lesson
Monroe Doctrine Lesson
Trail of Tears Lesson
Oregon Trail & Battle of Alamo Lesson
California Gold Rush & Pony Express Lesson
American Industrial Revolution Lesson
Underground Railroad Lesson
Abolitionists & Women Suffragists Lesson
Civil War: The Confederate States & Abraham Lincoln Lesson
Civil War Battles Lesson
Civil War Party & End of Year Review Game
Fun, Free Hands-on Unit Studies (My Lessons in All Subjects)

© 2018 Shannon


Shannon (author) from Florida on August 13, 2018:

Thank you!

Liz Westwood from UK on August 12, 2018:

Another very well-illustrated history lesson, with hands-on activities.

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