When parenting young children, especially toddlers, life is all about answering questions. As children continue to grow, their desire to learn more grows too. But when they ask the tough questions, like, “What is Memorial Day really about?” it’s hard to know the right way to answer them. Age appropriate answers are key, but so is telling the truth. To help with this difficult topic, we have four ways to teach your military kid about Memorial Day.
Visit Historic Places
Military kids are a special breed as the get to experience life in many different places, learning about many different cultures. If your family is living in a new place this year, consider visiting one of these historic places and talking about the history of Memorial Day.
- Hawaii – Pearl Harbor, the World War II naval base on the island of Oahu
- Pennsylvania – Gettysburg National Military Park, the scene of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle
- Louisiana – National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which tells the story of the American experience in “the war that changed the world”
- Pennsylvania – The Liberty Bell, a famous symbol of American independence in Independence National Historical Park
- Washington, D.C. – the National Mall, home to the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Constitution Gardens and the U.S. Capitol Building
- Virginia – Arlington National Cemetery, which served as a Union Army burial site during the Civil War
- Europe – Normandy American Cemetery – one of the most beautiful and sobering cemeteries marking World War II in Europe
There are many other options of places to visit, depending on where you live or where you may be moving this summer. A visit to learn about Memorial Day doesn’t have to take place on Memorial Day weekend.
Read About Memorial Day
Reading aloud is a fantastic way to teach children about any topic, especially those for which you may not have the right words. Children of all ages should be read to out loud, even those who are more than capable of reading to themselves. Choose a colorful book for those who like the pictures and give yourself enough time to stop and answer additional questions. Here are some ideas:
The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and her Tribute to Veterans, by Barbara E. Walsh and Layne Johnson – the story of a professor who started the poppy movement in the United States during World War I
America’s White Table, by Margot Theis Raven and Mike Benny – the story of sisters who are asked to set the table in honor of their Uncle
The Wall, by Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler – a story of a young boy and his father who travel to the Vietnam War Memorial Wall to find his grandfather’s name
If you are looking for more ideas, we encourage you to check out your local library and ask the children’s librarian. Or better yet, have your child ask them. Kids can learn how to learn by watching you learn!
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Visit a Cemetery
You may be able to visit one of the above-mentioned places this Memorial Day, but you may also live in the middle of nowhere and not quite be sure what to do. One great option is to go visit the local cemetery. Yes, even with your kids.
If you aren’t sure if you have a local veterans cemetery, check out this interactive map to see if there is one nearby. If you’re looking for someone specific, you can also use this locator to see where they are buried.
Then load up the kids, some American flags, and head out. Take the drive there to start a conversation about Memorial Day, maybe ask them what they have learned about it in school. Then fill in the blanks and explain what you’re going to do when you arrive.
When you get to the gravesite of these veteran, take a moment to read what is written and say their name out loud. Then, if within the rules of the cemetery and you deem it appropriate, place a flag that their gravesite. If this is a veteran cemetery, there may even be a group of people who do this each year, and you can join in with them.
Make a Poppy
The poppy flower is a reminder of the sacrifices we honor on Memorial Day, and for the second year, the USAA Poppy Wall of Honor will be located on the National Mall, near the Reflecting Pool. It’s open for visitors this weekend, Friday through Sunday. The wall is 133 feet long and reaches 8.5 feet tall and, when full, has over 645,000 poppies in it.
USAA knows that not every American family can physically visit the wall and has created a great teaching tool for families everywhere. The Poppy Craft is a great way for kids to have a hands-on learning experience. With minimal supplies needed, the Poppy Craft can be completed by children of all ages, maybe even while you read them one of the books listed above.
It’s important that all children understand the importance of Memorial Day, and for military children, it will hit a little closer to home. By giving them the information in an age-appropriate and safe environment, they can continue to share their experiences with those around them, perhaps most importantly with their peers.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on How to Talk to Your Kids about Memorial Holidays
Photo Credits: Rebecca Alwine, USAA, Unsplash