Veterans Day is a federal holiday observed on November 11th of every year. Veterans Day began as a celebration for an unknown World War I American soldier that was buried in Arlington Cemetery in 1921. This day became known as Armistice Day and in 1954 became known as Veterans Day. These recognitions took place on November 11th to celebrate the end of fighting in World War I, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918.
Why Should Students Celebrate Veterans Day?
By making sure that our students understand that the sacrifices of veterans in the past have made our freedom possible today, we are also helping them understand the critical importance of preserving that freedom for many generations to come.
Students need to be taught, from a very young age, the origins of our nation and the sacrifices that were made in its inception. We teach our little ones to say The Pledge of Allegiance when they start school, but do we make sure they know what the words mean? We expect them to show respect for the flag, the National Anthem, and veterans, but are we teaching them why and how that respect has been earned?
It is very important for our nation’s history, as well as for our nation’s future, that students are taught to recognize and celebrate Veterans Day. For students that come from families with a strong military background, an understanding and appreciation for veterans and their sacrifices may be a given. But for students that lack that kind of background, it is important that we, as educators, help them understand what Veterans Day is, why we celebrate it, and what it means for our nation’s past, present, and future. Students must be taught about the sacrifices that have been made by so many veterans in order to understand the value of the freedom that we enjoy in the United States.
Veterans Day Activities to Try in Your Class
Veterans Day Program
One of my favorite Veterans Day activities in which our school participates every year is a school-wide Veterans Day program. On this day, we open the celebration with a color guard presenting of colors. A staff member will speak briefly about the importance of honoring the flag and our nation. Usually the music class will perform some classic patriotic songs.
We usually end this celebration with a slide show presentation of veteran family members sent in by both students and faculty members. This is a great way to convey the importance of this day and help students understand the reverence that the day deserves.
Write to a Veteran
Depending on the grade level, writing a letter or making a card for a veteran is a great activity to implement. This helps students understand the importance of being grateful for the sacrifices made by American soldiers, both in war and peace.
Older students can send longer, more detailed letters. These students could even develop a pen-pal relationship with an older veteran in need of more regular communication and friendship. This is a great way to show gratitude to our veterans and is more appreciated than you may realize.
There are many books for younger students that you can read on or around Veterans Day to help them understand what Veterans Day is all about. There are too many to list them all, but some of my favorites are Hero Mom by Melinda Hardin, The Wall by Eve Bunting, Letters to a Soldier by First Lieutenant David Falvey and Mrs. Julie Hutt’s Fourth-Grade Class, and The Impossible Patriotism Project by Linda Skeers.
However, my absolute favorite book to read on Veterans Day, perhaps because I am also a dog lover, is Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond Between a Soldier and his Service Dog by Luis Carlos Montalvan. This book helps students understand the traumas that soldiers can experience in war and how service dogs can be used to help them through these difficulties.
Veterans Day is also a great time to study American symbols and how/why they were chosen. The reasoning and history behind symbols such as the eagle, the flag, Uncle Sam, the Washington Monument, the Liberty Bell, the White House, even the presidency itself, can be examined, debated, and discussed to give students a better understanding of these symbols and what they mean to us as a nation.
For older students in particular, Veterans Day is a good time to study past American wars. Of course, this can be a controversial topic. However, healthy debate is a good way to help students gain a deeper understanding of the underlying multitude of issues that are behind any given war that the United States has participated in.
For older students, the use of some clips or songs from the musical, Hamilton, can really help them understand the seemingly insurmountable tasks that our Founding Fathers faced in fighting for our freedom. (Be careful to listen or watch before using these clips from Hamilton so you can choose those that are appropriate for the age group and without profanity.)
Perhaps the most impactful and patriotic activity that you can implement in your classroom and/or your school for Veterans Day is inviting a veteran to speak to students. Depending on the speaker, this may be more appropriate for older students. However, if a veteran is able to come in and share experiences and sacrifices that he/she made by serving in the military in a way that is age-appropriate for the given grade level, there is nothing quite as powerful or meaningful for students in helping them understand the true meaning of Veterans Day.
One of the most memorable moments in my life is being in a grocery store with my middle-school-aged, very introverted daughter. A man pushing his own grocery cart passed by us. I admit that I didn’t even notice. However, she noticed that his hat said “Vietnam Veteran”. She quickly rushed to catch up with him and said, “Excuse me sir. Thank you for your service”.
I would like to say that moment was the result of spectacular parenting, but it was not. It was because of enriching curriculum and wonderful teachers that helped her understand the sacrifices veterans have made and continue to make. That event has changed the way I approach teaching Veterans Day, and I hope it helps you make Veterans Day an impactful and memorable event for your students.