Celebrate Memorial Day with the Kids
Sure, you want everyone to have a great day off, but here are fun and easy ways to teach kids the true meaning of the day too
-Myrna Blyth and Chriss Winston
Even though many people forget it, Memorial Day is much more than the three-day weekend when the pools open. To many people, especially the nation’s thousands of combat veterans, this day, which has a history stretching back all the way to the Civil War, is an important reminder of the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
The holiday was originally known as Decoration Day when flowers were laid on the graves of the Civil War dead, both Union and Confederate. After World War l, observances began to honor all who had died in any of America’s wars. Today, amidst family picnics, the end of school, and, yes, the opening of pools, there are still many observances of the solemn nature of the day. Flags are lowered to half-mast from dawn until noon, and many communities observe a moment of remembrance in ceremonies throughout the nation.
How can you and your family observe Memorial Day in a meaningful way?
- One friend of ours who lives in Washington D.C. takes his young children to the Vietnam Memorial each year at dawn on Memorial Day. It has become a family tradition, and every year as his children grow, so does their understanding of the meaning behind this holiday. But you don’t have to be in Washington to honor those who have served our country so honorably and with such courage. Almost every community has a war memorial or veterans’ cemetery where you could take your children, too.
- There are also many observances at military bases, in churches, and put on by veterans’ organizations throughout the country. Your best bet to find out what’s happening in your area is to check your local American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars posts.
- Remember those who fought and lived to tell about it. Have your children take some flowers, books and cookies to a nearby veterans’ hospital.
- Watch a TV show about our fighting men and the most famous battles of the past. The History Channel usually has a “Heroes Marathon” or other appropriate programming throughout this weekend, which, on past Memorial Days, has included shows like The Complete History of the Green Berets and The Unsung Heroes of Pearl Harbor. Or watch a video or DVD documentary about conflicts in which our soldiers fought and died. The History Channel and The Military Channel have many such DVDs available.
- There are also many movies or television series that your family can watch this weekend. One of the best mini series about D-Day made-for-cable is HBO’s Band of Brothers, which Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced and can now be bought or rented. But there are many good war movies, depending on the age of the children watching. Here are our Top Ten Favorites: 1. Saving Private Ryan 2. To Hell and Back 3. The Great Escape 4. Midway 5. The Longest Day 6. Patton 7. The Patriot 8. Gettysburg 9. Blackhawk Down 10. The Battle of the Bulge
- Many war movies are too much for younger kids, so try some craft activities instead. Have them to design a poster to mark the day or a postage stamp to honor our soldiers. They can print out and color the flags of the Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy which can be found on enchantedlearning.com.
- You can also print out a Medal Of Honor Coloring Book from the web at homeofheroes.com. It gives the history of the Medal of Honor and tells the stories of those bravest soldiers who won our country’s highest award.
- As on Veterans’ Day, it is really important that you and your kids do something special to support our troops and especially those wounded in battle. One of our favorite organizations is Soldier’s Angels and its goal: “Helping to bring home healthy soldiers.” It was founded by Patti Patton-Bader, whose son, Sgt. Brandon Varn, was sent to Iraq in 2003. He told his mother that many soldiers never received a letter from home. So Patti began an “Adopt a Soldier” program, asking people to write a letter or a card to a soldier and send him or her packages a couple of times a month. Soldier’s Angels also sends phone cards to the troops, asks for donations of air miles and sends homemade “blankets of hope” to the wounded. It serves as an umbrella organization for many other smaller groups that support and help our soldiers and their families. You’ve probably asked your kids more than once to “be an angel.” Now, as part of your Memorial Day observations, you can give them real wings.
Myrna Blyth and Chriss Winston are the authors of “How to Raise an American” (Crown Publishers)