Memorial Day – the official start of summer. The weekend we all barbeque, go out to the lake, or otherwise enjoy ourselves, right? There’s more to the story. Here is a short history about Memorial Day and some simple ways to teach preschoolers the importance of Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is a US federal holiday that celebrates all those who have died while serving their country. The graves of soldiers have been decorated since ancient times. These men and women gave the ultimate sacrifice, so honoring their memories helped ease the loss their families were feeling.
There have been decoration days in the United States many years prior to the establishment of Memorial Day. The decoration days were usually family specific, and often took on the feeling of a family reunion. Perhaps, the first public memorial observance occurred May 1, 1865, a bit less than a month after the end of the American Civil War, in Charleston, South Carolina.
A group of Union soldiers had been captured and were held prisoner at the Hampton Park Race Course during the war. When these soldiers died, they had been hastily buried in unmarked graves. A group of 3,000 individuals, mostly comprised of freed African Americans, cleaned up and landscaped the burial grounds. On May 1, 1865, roughly 10,000 people—mostly freedmen, and 3,000 school children, visited and brought flowers to decorate the site.
After World War II, Memorial Day became a time to honor all those who had died in the service of their country from the Revolutionary War forward. Memorial Day finally became an official federal holiday in 1971. The History Channel has a short, great video at http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/memorial-day-history talking about all the history of the day.
Now, we know how solemn this holiday is, but how can we teach our children to respect and honor those who have died in the service of their country?
Below are some simple ways to help children understand this holiday better:
Create paper poppies
Following the tradition started by Moina Belle Michael, after WWI, poppies are worn in remembrance of the fallen soldiers. The poppies became a symbol for those who died serving their country because of the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, who served in WWI as an artillery commander and military doctor for the Canadian Army.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars usually have artificial poppies for sale around Memorial Day, but this is something children can help create as well.
Poppies for younger children:
Red or white tissue paper, cut into circles
Green pipe cleaners
Separate four circles.
Poke the pipe cleaners through the center of the circles one at a time. Bend over the top of the pipe cleaners to make the flower’s center.
Scrunch the tissue paper around the center.
That is all! So easy to do, young children can participate and honor the fallen heroes.
Poppies for older children:
5 inches of red or white crepe paper
1 pipe cleaner cut in thirds
Start by folding up the corner of one side of the crepe paper. This creates the center of the poppy
Then, while slowly turning the center, gently wrap the paper around the center — scrunching it at the bottom so the upper edges spread out.
Twist the pipe cleaner around the bottom of the poppy to hold the poppy together.
Learn the songs for each branch of the armed services.
The Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and the Coast Guard all have different songs that are fun to sing.
Mike Concannon, Captain, US Navy Retired, wrote a fantastic piece about the songs for all the branches of the armed services. It includes the full lyrics as well. Find it at http://www.wnymoaa.org/service%20songs%20and%20history.pdf and sing the patriotic songs with the young ones.
Finally, take the kids to a memorial or cemetery.
Spend some time taking the children to an actual memorial. If there are veterans in the family, talk about their stories. Tell the children what it was that these brave men and women died for, and why it is important to you.
These activities won’t take much time from the family’s time together this Memorial Day, but will help children understand why Memorial Day is celebrated and the sacrifices that have gone into protecting their country.