Traditionally a day to honor fallen war heroes and one of solemn remembrances, teaching small children to grasp the idea behind Memorial Day can be a real challenge. While you want the holiday to signify more than a day off from school, learning about war and its consequences may be a towering concept for young minds.
It’s believed that by about the age of 5, most children will have had some association with death, maybe in the form of a pet or grandparent, or a bird, bug or animal in the street, and a burgeoning curiosity about it. But what precipitates dying, along with its implications for those left on Earth, is not readily understood until 7 or 8, and then only in broad terms.
Where Memorial Day is concerned, experts say it’s best to keep things simple, focusing more on the holiday’s history: It began after the Civil War to commemorate both Union and Confederate soldiers and in early years was called Decoration Day, as graves were traditionally decorated with flowers. Observing pomp and ceremony in the form of parades and speeches, and noting holiday rituals like flying the flag at half-mast for the first half of the day and raising it thereafter, or laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, are also easier for young minds to grasp.
Today, many children have parents in the military, possibly one stationed in a war zone, so some concept of war is understood even if it’s just a deep hole from an absentee dad or mom. In this regard, Memorial Day is an occasion to encourage expression through art projects like drawing, painting, and crafts. Websites like www.enchantedlearning.com and www.ehow.com can help. If your child likes to bake, find the food coloring for fun red, white, and blue-frosted cupcakes, or let them try their (adult-guided!) hands at a patriotic kid-friendly trifle: layered vanilla wafers, strawberries, blueberries, vanilla pudding, and whipped cream. By its nature, the holiday also provides an opportunity for little ones to relate their feelings to their peers from generations past whose parents went off to other wars, adding another layer to their early comprehension of Memorial Day.
Finally, in addition to a parade somewhere in your region or perhaps right downtown, your community may have specific commemorative events planned to honor its citizens who served and died. Exposing young children to the meaning of Memorial Day through these community activities is a great way to ease them into a solemn holiday, certainly one we should all embrace.