The White House

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11846

What color is your house? Can you handle 7000 visitors every day? What if you had to lose your job and your house on the same day? Virtually visit the White House, where the president lives and works!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5), Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • How many gallons of paint does it take to give the White House its white exterior?
  • Whose house is it, really?

At more than 55,000 square feet, it takes 570 gallons of paint to cover the White House's exterior!

That is one big house! In this lesson, you will learn the history of the place that is home to the executive branch of government, and will take a virtual field trip to explore the White House.

The White House is one of the most famous homes in the world. The president of the United States lives and works within its confines.

Shortly after George Washington became the first president, an area near the Potomac River was selected to be the capital city of the relatively new nation. Once the site for the nation's capital was selected, it was agreed upon that a home should be built there for the president and his family. A contest was opened and many people submitted plans for how they thought the home of the American leader should look. The winning design was created by James Hoban, an Irish-born immigrant. Hoban modeled his design for the state home after the Leinster House, a villa in Dublin.

Below is a picture of the Leinster House.

  • How does the house compare to the White House?
  • What similarities do you notice?

Tell your teacher or parent:

Leinster House

Image by Kent McConnell, via Flickr, is licensed under the CC BY 2.0 license.

While the project to build a home for the executive branch of government began with George Washington, President Washington was never actually able to live there, because the home was not completed before the end of his two terms in office.

When John Adams, the second president of the United States, was inaugurated as president, the home was still not complete. Eight years after construction on the house began, President John Adams and his wife, Abigail Adams, became its first residents on November 1, 1800, but they did not reside there long, because Thomas Jefferson became the third president a few months later.

Thomas Jefferson sought to the make the White House not just the home of the president, but the home of the people. He frequently opened the house to the public, inviting everyday Americans for tours and events throughout the year.

The idea of the White House being for the people has held throughout the years; it is the only home in the world, belonging to a head of state, that is open to public for free. The White House is even known as The People's House. Each year, thousands of people take advantage of this benefit, touring the famous home's halls and rooms. The White House is also open to the public for events such as the annual Easter Egg Roll.

In 1812, the United States became caught up in another war with the British, that lasted until 1815. During the conflict, in 1814, the British burned the White House to the ground. Congress debated moving the capital, and the president's home, to a new location, but decided it was best kept in Washington, D.C. The original designer, James Hoban, was brought back, and he rebuilt the White House from the ground up. Despite being completely rebuilt, few variations were made from the original design.

Throughout the years, and with each new first family, changes and additions are made to the White House. John Quincy Adams planted the first flower garden, William Taft expanded the West Wing and had the Oval Office built, Franklin D. Roosevelt added a swimming pool, and George H. W. Bush added Internet to the home.

Each first lady has also been known for adding her own unique decorating touches. Former First Lady Michelle Obama even added a produce garden, that provides almost all the fruits and vegetables for meals cooked at the White House.

Initially, the White House was only two floors, but today the White House consists of 132 rooms. It has six floors: two basements, two floors open to the public, and two private floors where the first family lives.

The home is divided into three sections and truly is a place for the president to work and play.

  • The center portion of the building is known as the Executive Residence. The Executive Residence is where the president and his family live and host guests.
  • There is an attachment to the west side of the Executive Residence, known as the West Wing. The West Wing is where the president works. In the West Wing, you can find the Oval Office, the offices of the all the president's advisors and lead staff members, meeting rooms, and the press briefing room, where the president meets the press.
  • There is also an attachment to the east side of the Executive Residence. This attachment is known as the East Wing. The East Wing is where the first lady works. The East Wing is much smaller than the West Wing, but it is where you can find the first lady's office, the offices of all her staff, and meeting rooms.

It is safe to say the president and the first lady have a short commute to work every morning!

To recap what you have learned about the history of the White House and learn more about its construction, watch Deconstructing History: White House | History:

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When you are finished watching the video, tell your teacher or parent what White House facts you think are the most interesting. Explain why these facts are interesting to you.

Then, move on to the Got It? section to take a virtual tour of the White House.

Consider exploring the Elephango lessons in the right-hand sidebar under Additional Resources to learn more about the presidents mentioned in this lesson.

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