Talk with kids about American ideals
Kids love Independence Day. There are hot dogs, beach parties, baseball games, and fireworks. But for young kids, there may also be questions about the significance of July 4th — for starters, What does “Independence Day” mean? As you answer their questions, you can give them some great reasons to love their country, on the Fourth and all year-round. Read on for seven patriotic talking points.
1. What is Independence Day?
The Fourth of July is our country’s birthday. When grandchildren ask why, tell them what happened on July 4, 1776. That was the day our country’s founders declared independence from Great Britain. This meant they would no longer follow the orders of Britain’s king. To do this was extremely dangerous. At the time, Britain had one of the world’s strongest armies, and to go against the king was a crime punishable by death. But the king’s laws were unfair, so our founders decided it was worth the risk of war to win the freedom to govern themselves. In 1783, the new United States won that war, which we now call the Revolutionary War.
2. Why does the flag have those stars?
At this time of year, American flags are easy to spot. Point one out to your grandchildren. Explain that each part of the flag stands for something. The 50 stars stand for the 50 states. The 13 stripes stand for the 13 British colonies, which declared their independence on July 4, 1776. Tell the children that the flag is a symbol — a way to show the world what we stand for. It also shows that we are connected to one another — that we’re on the same team. And because the flag is special, we treat it with respect.
3. What makes our country special?
Tell your kids that one thing that makes our country special is that it guarantees us certain rights, or freedoms. Explain how you use these rights every day when you pray (or decide not to), read a newspaper, or meet and talk with friends. Tell kids that you can do these things because our country guarantees us the freedom to practice religion the way we want, say or write what we want, and go where we want. Show older grandchildren how these rights are spelled out in the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Ask the kids which rights are most important to them.
4. What does the government do for us?
Take your kids on a tour of their town to show them the role that government plays in their lives. Talk about how many of the things they see represent the values of the people in their community. Explain that adults pay taxes to their local, state, and national government so that, among other things, the government can build and maintain facilities that reflect our values. Education is important to us, for example, so we build schools. Safety is a priority for us, so we put up traffic lights. And we want open places where we can gather, so we set aside space for parks. Children can also see the people who help the community, including police officers, firefighters, crossing guards, librarians, postal workers, and sanitation crews.
5. What does the president do?
Ask your kids to imagine that they have been elected president of the U.S. (Make sure they understand that being a president is very different from being a king or a queen.) What would they do? Give all kids free ice cream? Make the world a peaceful place? Talk about what some of our presidents have done in difficult times; for instance, Abraham Lincoln helped lead a war to keep the country together, when some states wanted it to split in two. If your son or daughter want to find out more about our presidents, share a book with them.
6. What can we do for our country?
Tell the kids that our country is like a family: Everyone has to pitch in or it doesn’t work. As members of the U.S. “family” — in other words, as citizens — we all have certain responsibilities, like going to school, voting, and obeying the law. Discuss how being a good citizen also means taking care of the country, by keeping it clean, looking out for people in trouble, and staying informed about the problems that we face. Of course, actions always have more impact than words, so set an example by dedicating some of your time to volunteering in the community. Find a project that is important to both you and the kids, such as helping out at a school or cleaning up a playground.
7. What does it mean to be American?
In countries like China or Ireland, most residents share a common culture or ethnicity. But the United States is different. Here, what people share is a common idea — that people should have the freedom to live the way they want, and to work and earn money the best way they can. These freedoms have inspired people from all over the world to come to this country and become “Americans.” This is a profound idea many children may never have considered and it might make them feel especially proud of their country, as well as more connected to other Americans of different backgrounds. It can also lead to a discussion about your own family’s journey to the United States. Why did your relatives come? Why did they stay? Every family’s story is part of the country’s story. Make sure your kids know yours.