How to Celebrate the 4th of July with Kids
History, facts, fireworks and fun things to do
– Myrna Blyth and Chriss Winston
We’re sure you make a big deal about the 4th of July. At least in the barbecue department. (Sales of barbeque sauce surge all over the country the week before the holiday.) But even before that grill was a gleam in Mr. Weber’s eye, Americans have, right from the start, made a big deal out of our Independence Day.
A BIT OF HISTORY:
Just a day after signing the Declaration, John Adams wrote his beloved wife Abigail his instructions on how to celebrate America’s birthday party. He knew it was going to be big, really big. He wrote:
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding Generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by Solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
I DIDN’T KNOW THAT
4TH FACTOIDS THAT WILL IMPRESS THE KIDS:
How many changes did Thomas Jefferson make to the Declaration of Independence? The Continental Congress asked him to make 86. And he did it – gritting his teeth.
What’s on the back of the Declaration of Independence? People who have seen the movie “National Treasure” want to know. Well, on the back, at the bottom, upside-down is simply written: “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.” According to the National Archives, “While no one knows for certain who wrote it, it is known that early in its life, the large parchment document was rolled up for storage. So, it is likely that the notation was added simply as a label.” Sorry, there are no hidden messages.
Who besides America was born on the 4th of July? Well, Louis Armstrong, the greatest of all Jazz musicians, always said he had a July 4th birthday. Broadway song and dance man, George M. Cohan, who wrote “Yankee Doodle Boy” and, during World War I, “Over There,” also said he was born on Independence Day. Others include song writer Stephen Foster who wrote “Dixie”, President Calvin Coolidge, playwright Neil Simon, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, and advice-givers Ann Landers and her twin sister Abigail Van Buren.
Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, onetime rivals, ultimately friends, died on July 4, 1826, fifty years after they had signed the Declaration. Adams’ last words, allegedly, were, “Jefferson still lives.” But he was wrong; Jefferson had died two hours earlier.
THE JOHN ADAMS JULY 4TH CELEBRATION PLAN
Read all about it! So they will absolutely understand what they’re celebrating, ask the kids to read a book about the 4th or about a youngster living during Revolutionary times. Some good ones are:
“The Story of America’s Birthday” by Patricia A. Pingry (Candy Cane Press), ages 4-8.
“The 4th of July Story” by Alice Dalgliesh (Aladdin), ages 4-8.
“Happy 4th of July, Jennie Sweeney” by Leslie Kimmelman (Albert Whitman), ages 4-8.
“Felicity: An American Girl” by Valerie Tripp (The American Girl Collection), ages 7-12.
“Johnny Tremaine” by Esther Forbes (Yearling), ages 9-12.
Make reading even more fun by making it a year-long contest ending on July 4. Have the kids each make an American flag with stripes but no stars. Buy some gold stars – the old-fashioned “lick ’em and stick ’em” kind – and as your child finishes a book, give them a star. First one to get to 50 stars and fill in the flag wins a special treat. You decide the treat.
Go to a parade. Many small towns have one and kids (even today’s kids no matter how many computer games they have), still think it is fun to hear the bands playing, see the fire trucks with lights and sirens, and wave to their friends and neighbors who are marching or, if possible, take part themselves with their Boy or Girl Scout troop.
No parade in your area? Make your own. Round up the neighborhood kids for an old-fashioned bike parade and let them decorate their bikes with red, white and blue crepe paper and streamers. Judge the best decorations, but make sure that everyone gets a prize. Follow up with a neighborhood barbeque if you’ve still got the energy.
As for “shews” or shows, most small towns and cities have concerts, too, and one of the best ways for the family to end a hot and busy day is sitting down and listening to a medley of patriotic tunes. The most well known – and televised – concerts are on the Mall in Washington, D.C. and the Boston Pops celebration on the banks of the Charles River.
The 4th of July without fireworks would be like Thanksgiving without the turkey. The first official Independence Day fireworks we know of took place in 1777 when the city fathers of Philadelphia shot off 13 rockets – one for each of the states in the new union. If you want to have that once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing an extraordinary fireworks display, then plan a July 4th in New York, or in Boston or Washington. Other spectacular shows are in State College, Pennsylvania, the largest all-volunteer firework displays in the nation, and on the West Coast in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle.
But if you want to have a New York or Boston-sized fireworks display over the skyline of your own hometown or even in your backyard, you can, sort of, at least on your computer. Check out Phantom Fireworks www.fireworks.com where you can upload a picture of your town or home and then set off your choice of July 4th fireworks on the screen. The kids can also download a fireworks screen saver! It will blow them away!
For all the historical information on the 4th of July you could ever want, go to gurukul.american.edu/heintze/fourth.htm. You’ll find an amazing Independence Day data base, compiled by Jim Heintze, a librarian, at American University.
Happy 4th of July!
Myrna Blyth and Chriss Winston are the authors of “How to Raise an American: 1776 Fun and Easy , Tools, Tips and Activities to Help Your Child Love This Country.” (Crown Forum.)