Monday, July 2, 2012

Fourth of July: Activities and History Lessons for Kids

The Fourth of July has to be one of my favorite holidays; I love the the mid-morning parades, the afternoon barbecues, and the late night fireworks.
When I was a young child I knew that the holiday had something to do with America (because of all the flags and such), but I wasn't sure exactly why.
I believe it is very important for kids to know why we celebrate the holiday and the significance behind our country's history, otherwise it is just another holiday! 
To help your children understand the significance of this holiday, try holding activities and short lessons every night for a few days leading up to the Fourth. By giving short lessons about the events that happened on July 4th, there will be more anticipation and excitement when the day comes.
The following lesson ideas can be adapted to fit different age groups and, consequently, attention spans.

How did the United States become an independent country?
Imagine how you would feel if someone older than you (maybe an older sister or brother) kept telling you what to do all of the time and kept taking more and more of your allowance. That is how the colonists felt in the years leading up to 1776. Great Britain kept trying to make the colonists follow more rules and pay higher taxes. People started getting mad and began making plans to be able to make their own rules. They no longer wanted Great Britain to be able to tell them what to do, so they decided to tell Great Britain that they were becoming an independent country. (To be independent means to take care of yourself, making your own rules and providing for your own needs.)
The Congress met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and they appointed a committee (a group of people working together to do a specific job) to write a formal document that would tell Great Britain that the Americans had decided to govern themselves. The committee asked Thomas Jefferson to write a draft (first try) of the document, so he worked for days, in absolute secret, until he had written a document that he thought said everything important that the committee had discussed. On June 28, 1776, the committee met to read Jefferson's "fair" copy (he put his best ideas together and wrote them neatly.) They revised (made some changes) the document and declared their independence on July 2, 1776. They officially adopted it (made it theirs) on July 4, 1776. That is why we call it "Independence Day." Congress ordered that all members must sign the Declaration of Independence and they all began signing the "official" copy on August 2, 1776. In January of the next year, Congress sent signed copies to all of the states.
The Declaration of Independence is more than just a piece of paper. It is a symbol of our country's independence and commitment to certain ideas. A symbol is something that stands for something else. Most people can look at a certain little "swoosh" and know that it stands for "Nike." Well, the signers of the Declaration of Independence wanted the citizens of the United States to have a document that spelled out what was important to our leaders and citizens. They wanted us to be able to look at the Declaration of Independence and immediately think of the goals we should always be working for, and about the people who have fought so hard to make these ideas possible. The people who signed the Declaration risked being hanged for treason by the leaders in Great Britain. They had to be very brave to sign something that would be considered a crime! So every time we look at the Declaration of Independence, we should think about all of the effort and ideas that went into the document, and about the courage it took for these people to stand up for what they knew was right -- independence!
Activity Idea: Make your own "Freedom Rap"!
What is the Fourth of July ( AKA Independence Day)?
Independence Day is the birthday of the United States of America and is celebrated on the Fourth of July each year. Independence Day is the anniversary of the day on which the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.
Activity Idea: Make birthday cards to America and explain what you most love about living here. 

Why did we make the day of independence a holiday, and why do we have fireworks, parades, etc.?
John Adams, one of the founders of our new nation, said, "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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward for evermore."
By the time of the American Revolution, fireworks had long played a part in celebrating important events. It was natural, then, that not only John Adams but also many of his countrymen should think of fireworks when independence was declared. The very first celebration of Independence Day was in 1777, six years before Americans knew whether the new nation would even survive the war, and fireworks were a part of the revels.
Activity Idea: Try buying some small fireworks (if legal in your state) or go watch the city fireworks on the Fourth!

Why is the American flag red, white, and blue? And why is it made up of stars and stripes?
In May of 1776, Betsy Ross reported that she sewed the first American flag. 

On June 14, 1777, in order to establish an official flag for the new nation, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act: "Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation." 

Between 1777 and 1960, Congress passed several acts that changed the shape, design and arrangement of the flag and allowed for additional stars and stripes to be added to reflect the admission of each new state.

Today the flag consists of thirteen horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with 6 white. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies, the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. The colors of the flag are symbolic as well: Red symbolizes Hardiness and Valor, White symbolizes Purity and Innocence and Blue represents Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice.

Do you have any family traditions for the Fourth of July? What do you love about living in the United States?

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