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Memorial Day Activities: Salute to Service

Janelle Cox

Memorial Day Activities: Salute to ServiceMemorial Day is celebrated every year in the U.S. on the last Monday in May. Each year, schools across the country honor our fallen soldiers by participating in patriotic activities, and by learning about the history of the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

Here are a few activities that will introduce your students to the true meaning of Memorial Day and provide them with a deeper understanding of the history of the holiday.

Internet Scavenger Hunt

Have students go on an internet scavenger hunt. Provide them with the following five questions and have them scour the internet for the answers.

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  1. Why do we celebrate Memorial Day? (To honor fallen soldiers)
  2. What was the original name of Memorial Day? (Decoration Day)
  3. Do all states celebrate Memorial Day on the same day? (No, some southern states celebrate Confederate Day in January)
  4. What date was Memorial Day originally established? (May 5, 1868 by General John Logan)
  5. Was Memorial Day always celebrated on the last Monday in May? (No, not until 1971 when Congress declared in a national holiday)

Celebrate Patriotism

Challenge students to describe what it means to be patriotic. Brainstorm ideas together as a class. Students may suggest that patriotism means showing respect for your country, or loving and being loyal to your country. Young children may suggest wearing red, white, and blue, or putting up the American flag are signs of patriotism. Once you have brainstormed enough ideas, have students write down their final list and draw an illustration of what patriotism means to them. Then you can bind them into a class book and title it "Patriotism is…"

Honor our Living Heroes

Invite a local veteran to your school to talk about their experiences with war. You may contact your local Honor Flight Network to locate a veteran who will come talk to your students. You can also ask a veteran from World War ll or Vietnam to come speak, along with a soldier who just came back from Iraq or Afghanistan. They can talk about how their two experiences are alike and different. Have students prepare interview questions beforehand. Brainstorm questions you can ask the veterans with students and encourage them to be creative. Ask questions such as, "What was your job assignment during the war?" "What was your most memorable experience?" "Were you awarded any metals?" "Were you in direct combat?" "What did you do when you were on leave?" Once the students have the questions answered, have them to write a short paper about their interview and what they learned.

Re-create a Memorial

Read the story The Wall by Eve Bunting. Then, discuss the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and how the young boy in the story was trying to find his grandfather's name on the wall. Tell students they are going to re-create a small scale version of the Vietnam Wall in their hallway. Students can visit Vietnamwall.org for more information, and to see virtual rubbings of the names of soldiers who died in the war. Once they have created their memorial, encourage other classrooms to come take a tour. Divide students into groups and have each group serve as a guide to teach their fellow classmates about the memorial.

Take a Field Trip

The best place for children to learn about the history of Memorial Day is to visit your local veteran’s memorial. Students can pay homage to your local fallen heroes by visiting a veteran's grave site or local monument. If you do not have a local monument you can visit, students can research all of the landmarks in Washington, DC.

Memorial Day Children's Books

Choose a few of these Memorial Day books to read to your students:

  • Let's Get Ready for Memorial Day by Lloyd G. Douglas
  • Memorial Day Surprise by Theresa Golding
  • Memorial Day by Robin Nelson
  • The Wall by Eve Bunting
  • Memorial Day by Christin Ditchfield

Do you have a great idea or activity for Memorial Day that you would like to share? Share it with us in the comment section below. We would love to hear your thoughts!