Memorial Day: Teaching Children the Meaning and History

veteran memorial dayChildren love to celebrate and have fun. But they don’t always understand the reason behind the celebrations unless we tell them. You may be wondering how to teach children the meaning and importance of Memorial Day. Take a cue from the ideas below to help you.

Most people think of Memorial Day as the first three-day weekend of the summer season, even though summer is still a few weeks away. Many of those people look forward to the sales and children look forward to an extra day off of school. However, it is important that you teach them that there’s more to the holiday.

Teaching  the Meaning of Memorial Day

One thing you want to be sure to do as a family is to explain that the holiday was originally set up to honor the soldiers from the United States who had died during the Civil War. Since the holiday began in the 1850s, it has continued to commemorate fallen soldiers from every war and armed conflict that the United States has been a part of.

Children’s Personal Link to History

Talk about the children’s ancestors who fought, and possibly died, during one of the country’s wars. Did one of their ancestors serve during World War I or II? Did they have family member who was a soldier in the Korean War or Vietnam conflict ? Maybe they had an ancestor in a war that is farther back in history like the revolutionary war, civil war, or any number of other wars.

Talking about these relatives helps to give children roots, a sense of honor, and a connection to brave people who stood up for their beliefs. This helps to pave the way for you to teach about peer-pressure at another time.

Up-close and Personal View

Use this day to talk about the sacrifice of the soldier, but also the entire family, when they go away to war. These soldiers have offered their lives during the time they’re fighting for the freedom that we all hold so dear. It is important that we recognize their sacrifice and honor their memories.

When children can relate to what it was like for these families, especially the children, it can help them to develop compassion and respect for others, as well as a sense of gratitude for what they have and what other people did for them.

Patriotic Participation

Take time to participate in any activities planned in your community for Memorial Day. Be sure to display the flag. Teach your children the proper way to display the flag, how to fold the flag, how to handle the flag while it’s being raised and again as it’s being lowered, as well as how to display the flag at half-staff.

Make sure your children know how to say the Pledge of Allegiance, how to sing the Star Spangled Banner, and other patriotic poems and songs such as Taps. Encourage them to sing along or recite these things when they’re being performed.

Teaching the History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day because a number of women decorated the graves of the soldiers who had died during the Civil War. Paper poppies are also sold and worn to commemorate the day. As time passed, the holiday was officially changed to Memorial Day and given a specific day each year to be celebrated – the last Monday of the month of May.

The Evolution of Memorial Day

Most people don’t realize that the idea for Memorial Day began way back during the Civil War. During that war, over 620,000 soldiers died and people spontaneously held tributes in honor of the fallen, both for the North and the South.

Women in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania placed flowers on the gravestones of those who had fought at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. In 1865, women did the same in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Carbondale, Illinois became the first organized Memorial Day ceremony held community-wide in April 1866. Major General John A. Logan, a Union hero, was the principle speaker at this event.

Carbondale was the first organized commemoration but Waterloo, New York was given the distinction of being the “birthplace of Memorial Day” because they have held annual celebrations since May 5, 1866.

The holiday was first known as Decoration Day because people placed flowers and flags on the graves of fallen soldiers from both sides of the war. It was called Memorial Day as early as 1882 but it wasn’t declared “Memorial Day” by Federal law until 1967. The holiday was moved from May 30th to the last Monday of the month in 1971.

Traditionally Memorial Day is honored by flying the American flag at half-staff until noon. The flag is then raised to the top of the flagpole until sunset. The song Taps, a 24-note bugle call, is often played during memorial services and at military funerals.

You may often see people sporting red paper poppies on Memorial Day. This began in 1915 when a Georgia teacher suggested using the poppy as a symbol to pay tribute to the veterans. Since that time, the Veterans of Foreign Wars has supported the sale of poppies.

In recent years, it seems the holiday is simply another day off of work, the perfect time to enjoy the beginning of the summer season and the first barbecue of the year, and a time to find great sales. Congress enacted a National Moment of Remembrance in 2000 at 3:00 p.m. Americans are asked to pause for one minute of silence as an act of national solidarity.

If you’re wondering how to teach children the meaning and importance of Memorial Day, use some of these ideas. Your children will appreciate knowing the meaning behind the holiday and can learn something about themselves, their family, and the country in the process.

More Online Resources

US Dept. of Veterans Affairs
The History Channel – Memorial Day

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