Kids love birthday parties, so it is usually easy to get them excited about the Fourth of July. They love the parades and the fireworks, the barbeques and the sheet cake decorated to look like an American flag.
I even, sort of, made one of those cakes one year. It is easy to get out the strawberries, blueberries, and whipped cream and transform the dullest supermarket yellow cake into a reasonable facsimile of Old Glory. That’s just one thing you can do.
You can also encourage the kids to read, or you can read to them, the many children’s books that tell the story of the Declaration of Independence, or other stories from Revolutionary times. A good book for very young kids is The Story of America’s Birthday, by Patricia A. Pingry. For older ones, go with the classic Johnny Tremaine by Esther Forbes.
One way to encourage reading about American history all summer long is to draw an American flag, but leave out the stars in the upper-left corner. Buy some star stickers, and every time a member of the family finishes a biography of a famous American or a story about our history, add one. When you reach 50, plan a special treat for the whole family. Maybe a trip to Washington next year to watch the fireworks over the Mall.
And here’s an idea for after the barbeque: Curl up with the whole family and watch a film such as Felicity: An American Girl, The Patriot, or the musical 1776. The latter is long but very accurate, and my kids, eating their ice cream, wanted to sit through it year after year, and never fell asleep until the Declaration was signed.
Another suggestion is to pledge to Take Your Kids 2 Vote on Election Day. Let me explain. When my co-author Chriss Winston and I were doing research for our book How to Raise an American, we spoke with adults about the childhood experiences that most contributed to their patriotism. Many recalled their parents taking them to the polls, so we decided to start a campaign.
Unlike the past campaigns to take your daughter — or children — to work, you don’t need your boss’s permission or lunch served or special workplace insurance. Taking your kids along when you vote is a very simple but very effective way to demonstrate citizenship to your children, to make them realize the importance of Election Day, and to make democracy a family affair.
In many locations kids, until they are around 15, can go into the voting booth with a mother or father and watch the parent pull the lever. It helps them understand that you are voting for their future. And research shows that if children, especially middle-school children about ten or eleven, get interested in a presidential election, they remain interested in politics and government for the rest of their lives.
We have a pledge on our website TakeYourKids2Vote.org that families can print out and sign. The kids can act as witnesses. You can even attach a family photo if you want. Then, post the pledge on the fridge. And tell your family, friends, and neighbors about the pledge, and encourage them to follow suit. It will be a reminder of the important part your family — and every American family — should be playing in the election. And, if you would like to share any memories about voting with your parents, please tell me so I can have them posted to the site.
The Fourth of July is the perfect time, one of those “teachable moments,” to make our children learn more about our country’s history. It is a day they should feel proud and grateful to be Americans. Kids like to feel they belong to a family, a community, a state, and a nation. It is important for them, and important for the future of America.
– Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness – and Liberalism – to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.