Today in the USA, we celebrate Memorial Day, a special day set aside to honor those who have died in the service of our country. Since we have no close family members or friends that have died in duty, I know the personal temptation as a family to easily get caught up in the excitement of a paid day off work and the American traditions of barbecuing and picnicking. But, I think that taking the time to properly celebrate serious holidays helps shape our children’s moral imagination of the world around us. By remembering those who through courage and selflessness sacrificed their lives for our country, we teach our children that these virtues should be honored and copied.
I realize that some of my readers are pacifists or may disagree with the recent American wars, and some of my readers do not live in the USA and have no holiday today. Whatever, you believe about war though, we should remember that the men and women who have given their lives did so as an act of love to preserve our freedoms. They gave their lives to save the lives and quality of living of those who were weaker and could not protect themselves.
Today, I would like to share three simple ideas for teaching preschoolers to honor our soldiers on Memorial Day.
Idea #1 for observing Memorial Day with children: Honor a soldier’s grave – Visit a military cemetery or monument. Have your preschooler place flowers in an appropriate place or release some balloons. We were visiting our family plot this weekend, so we had our preschooler place flowers on some military graves in the immediate area. We chose graves that were older, undecorated, and from different wars.
Idea #2 for observing Memorial Day with children: Write a letter honoring a soldier – If you know a family who has lost a member to war, encourage your young child to write a letter telling the family how thankful he is for the deceased soldier’s courage and sacrifice. If your child cannot write yet, you could have him dictate a letter or draw a picture in honor of the soldier.
You could also write a letter or draw a picture to “The Unknown Solider”, attach the piece of paper to a helium balloon, and release the balloon in honor of the soldier.
Idea #3 for observing Memorial Day with children: Read books that honor soldiers – Check out some picture books that honor soldiers from the library. Read and discuss. (Note: I was not able to personally find and read all the books on the list, but I did try to carefully search online for some of the best children’s books on this subject.) The Wall and Memorial Day Surprise are on almost every list, so I would assume that they would be in most libraries.
Note: Book jackets link to Amazon and are affiliate links.
The Wall by Eve Bunting and illustrated Ronald Himler
A young boy and his father visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to find the boy’s grandfather’s name on the wall. This picture book finds its way on almost every Memorial Day book list and has a 5 star rating on Amazon.
Memorial Day Surprise by Theresa Martin Golding and illustrated by Alexandra Artigas
A mother promises a special surprise for her son after the Memorial Day parade. The book culminates with the surprise: his grandfather being honored for his military service.
America’s White Table by Marget Theis Raven and illustrated by Mike Benny
In this picture book, a mother explains a special table setting to honor soldiers to her daughter (example: a small table is used to represent the loneliness of being a soldier). With two gold medals from the Society of Illustrators, this book would be worth reading.
Just in Time, Abraham Lincoln by Patricia Polacco
Two school age boys are shocked out of their video game absorbed world when they are sent out of a museum one day by the curator to join a “reenactment” of the Civil War that turns out being more real than they had planned. With great lessons on the horror but reasons for real war, this book does a great job of teaching kids that war is not entertainment and violence is not “cool”. (Read my full review here.)
These activities and books are not just limited to Memorial Day. Honoring those who have died in service would be a wonderful activity for children any day.
How are you observing Memorial Day with your children?