5 Ways to Teach Your Kids the Real Meaning of Memorial Day
School’s out (or almost out), the weather is warming up, the pools are opening. Memorial Day seems to unofficially announce the start of summer, and with so many fun activities, it’s natural that kids get caught up in the excitement of the holiday. So how do you go bout introducing the real meaning of this holiday – which is actual quite somber – in a way that your children will understand the sacrifices made by servicemen and women defending freedom around the world for centuries?
It’s a big task, but an important one. It helps ensure that your children, as they grow, will become adults who respect and understand the true meaning of Memorial Day. It promises that they will one day teach their own children, and that the lives lost during wars will always be remembered on the last Monday of May.
Here are five easy ways to share the real meaning of Memorial Day with your kids this year:
The most basic and straightforward way is to speak to your kids about the reason behind Memorial Day in an age-appropriate way. You can start your day with your own brief ceremony in your home, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, having a moment of silence or prayer, and discussing the origin of Memorial Day. You could explain how the holiday was founded, and the fact that, even today, many families will be remembering a loved one that gave his or her life protecting this country.
If you need a little help starting the conversation, gather the kids around the computer during breakfast and let them watch a video or two about the history of Memorial Day. You can also download and print out a free printable and let the kids color it while you discuss (older kids may like a word find or crossword puzzle), or you can even do a fun patriotic arts and craft activity. You don’t have to make it a long, in-depth lesson; keep it light but straightforward and cover the main points. Remember that you are laying the groundwork for what your children think of every Memorial Day in the years to come.
There are several customs traditionally observed on Memorial Day that can be easily conducted at your home. For example, if you have an American flag on display, fly it at half-mast until noon. You can also observe a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time and explain to the children that people across the nation are doing the same thing as part of the National Moment of Remembrance. Red poppies are another symbol of military remembrance, so you could wear small artificial flower on your shirts during the day, or even make your own out of paper. These small gestures can help your children remember, even among the various fun activities taking place during the long weekend, the real meaning behind Memorial Day.
Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day,” as the main point of the remembrance was to visit the graves of those killed in war and place flowers on their tombs. Take some time out of the day to keep this tradition alive by visiting your local cemetery and letting your children help you place a small bouquet, an American flag, or a red, white, and blue ribbon on the tombstones of those who served in the military. If you have more time, bring the kids in some work clothes and gloves (don’t forget the bugspray), and be prepared to do some clean up work around the graves as well, cutting out weeds and moving away dead grass. These actions ensure that the proper respect is shown to the final resting place of U.S. servicemen and women, and these memories will stay with your kids. Be sure to plan a fun reward afterwards, like a popsicle and a trip to the pool, or playtime in the sprinkler back at home.
While Memorial Day is a day dedicated to remembering fallen members of the Armed Forces, you can also use it as an opportunity to thank those veterans still living. Visiting a local VA hospital or a nursing home is a sure way to find many veterans who could use a smile, a hug, and a thank you. You can consider delivering some homebaked goods that your kids could help you make, or perhaps you can pick up a bunch of small American flags to distribute during your visit. The main point is the simple gesture of thanks. And keep in mind that many of these veterans probably lost close friends or relatives during their conflicts years ago. Memorial Day may be a solemn day for them, and bringing a bit of gratitude to their world could make a big difference.
Your city or town hopefully has its own Memorial Day celebration and parade. Make sure your kids attend – or better yet, participate. Be sure to point out the military-related floats, vehicles, or marching units. This is another great teaching moment to remind your kids of why we celebrate Memorial Day (and gently differentiate it from other patriotic holidays like the 4th of July). If you don’t have a nearby parade to attend, why not organize your own impromptu walk around your neighborhood, inviting other families to bring a wagon, a bike, or a scooter, and decorate them in red, white, and blue. You can end the parade with the Pledge of Allegiance and a brief moment of silence.
Finding the proper balance between the reverence of Memorial Day and all the fun activities that go along with a summer holiday can be a challenge. Being sensitive to how your children are processing the information and making yourself available to answer their questions can help them work through understanding many issues about war, death, and the cost for their own freedom. It’s great to enjoy all the fun of the long weekend, but be sure to reserve a bit of energy and bandwidth to teaching and acting on the real meaning for Memorial Day.