Teaching Kids About the Importance of Memorial Day

At times, it can be easy for even us as adults to just think of Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial kick-off to summer, and also some time off to either get more chores done around the house, travel, or to have a little fun with friends or family. But however we plan to use the upcoming break, it’s important to take a step back, and help our kids really understand the meaning of Memorial Day, and all that it represents.

According to Time, the origins of the holiday date back to May 30, 1868, when Union General John A. Logan declared the day an occasion to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers.[1] This was aptly referred to as “Decoration Day,” and on that first observance, General James Garfield delivered a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.[2]

Some 20 years later, the occasion’s name was changed to Memorial Day. On May 11, 1950, Congress passed a resolution requesting that the President issue a proclamation calling on Americans to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace. President Richard Nixon declared it a federal holiday in 1971, and since then, Memorial Day is recognized annually on the last Monday of each May.

So that’s a bit on the history and stats. But what’s important for our families to think about as we approach the holiday this year?

Depending on your kids’ ages, they may already be schooled some in U.S. history or not there quite yet, but either way, a nice family talk about recognizing the holiday is a great first step, and now you have the background to do so. Memorial Day truly serves as a time of reflection, to remember and honor the men and women who have served our country and lost their lives while doing so. It is customary to mark Memorial Day by visiting graveyards and war monuments. One of the biggest Memorial Day traditions is for the President or Vice President to give a speech and lay a wreath on soldiers’ graves in Arlington National Cemetery, but don’t forget – most towns also have local Memorial Day celebrations too.

So you can easily put that family discussion into action with some of these ideas:

  • Place flags or flowers on the graves of men and women who served in wars. This is especially a nice idea for family members who have passed – grandparents, etc.
  • Fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until noon.
  • Visit monuments dedicated to soldiers, sailors, and marines. If you can’t get to one, research some online to familiarize your children, or even catch some streaming services.
  • Participate in a National Moment of Remembrance at 3pm your local time.
  • Take part in a local parade as a marcher or spectator. This is also a great way to enjoy that unofficial summer kick-off weather!

So this Memorial Day, whether you’re venturing out on a road trip, planning a cookout, or even just cleaning out the garage, take a family moment to go over why we have this bit of extra time to enjoy in the first place. Help your children to learn about Memorial Day, and in the process, remind yourself why it’s so important, and what we all can do to help recognize a holiday whose meaning far outstretches the simple pleasures of a long weekend.



[1] http://www.timeforkids.com/news/meaning-memorial-day/40391

[2] http://www.usmemorialday.org/

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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