The Fourth of July is an all-American day that helps create a shared heritage that unites us as one people, a heritage that every child should learn. It is challenging to raise patriotic young Americans today, and busy parents often lack easy tools, tips, and activities to help kids recognize the importance of America’s founding on July 4.
#aD3I’m sure that most families already make a big deal out of the Fourth of July, at least in the barbecue department. (Sales of barbecue sauce surge all over the country the week before the holiday.) But we suggest families follow to some degree John Adam’s instructions on how to commemorate the glorious Fourth.
Just after signing the Declaration, Adams wrote to his beloved Abigail his vision on how to celebrate America’s birthday party: “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding Generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by Solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
As for your family’s celebration, Chriss Winston and I — we wrote a book on teaching patriotism — suggest:
Start by having the kids read a book about the Fourth or about a youngster who lived during Revolutionary times so they will absolutely understand what they’re celebrating. There are good books for kids from pre-schoolers on up including The Story of America’s Birthday by Patricia A. Pingry that can be read to the youngest. A terrific book for ages 9-12 is the children’s classic Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes.
Go to a parade. Many small towns have one, and kids, even today’s kids with their many computer games, think it is fun to hear the bands playing, see the fire trucks with lights flashing and sirens blaring, and wave to their friends and neighbors.
No parade in your area? Make your own. Round up the neighborhood kids for an old-fashioned bike parade and let them decorate their bikes with red, blue and white streamers. Give out prizes for the best decorations. .
As for Adams’s “shews,” many small towns and cities also have concerts, featuring patriotic music. The biggies, of course, are on the Mall in Washington and in Boston. If none are close by, pop in a DVD of 1776, a terrific movie musical based on the Broadway play. My kids and I used to watch it every Fourth of July. Also make sure the iPod is loaded with patriotic music. A mother recently told me that she found using the music of different eras was an easy way to teach her musically inclined kids American history.
Go to a local fireworks display, because there is no such thing as a bad fireworks display, at least not where kids are concerned. But if you want to have a New York or Boston-sized display over your own hometown or in your backyard you can, (sort of) at least on your own computer. Check out Phantom Fireworks, where you can upload a picture of your town or home and then set off your choice of Fourth of July fireworks on the screen.
With the kids, check out the Declaration of Independence on the web site of the National Archives. You can even print out a copy and get the kids to sign. Make a feather pen and berry ink, similar to the pen and ink the Founding Fathers used.
For all information about the Fourth you — or a historically minded youngster — could ever want, go to American University’s amazing Independence Day database, compiled by Jim Heintze.
And, of course, do what I am about to do. Get the whole family together and go outside and raise the flag!
– Myrna Blyth, former longtime editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author, with Chriss Winston, of How to Raise an American: 1776 Fun and Easy Tools, Tips, and Activities to Help Your Child Love this Country. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.