For a lot of Americans, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks, barbecues, and red, white, and blue. Many children (and adults) don't truly understand why we celebrate this uniquely American holiday.
After all, how much do you really remember from your high school history class?
Why Do We Celebrate the Fourth of July?
Historically speaking, the Fourth of July is a big deal. It was on this date in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was officially adopted. This is why the Fourth of July is also known as "Independence Day." July 4, 1776 was the day our country's founders officially declared their separation from the country that ruled over them.
Remember that thing known as the American Revolution, when the colonists fought Great Britain for the right to govern themselves? It was because the American colonists wanted to form their own government that they declared their independence from British rule, and fought and won the American Revolution.
Now, over 200 years later, we celebrate the Fourth of July because it stands as a symbol of the day long ago when we ceased being British and became true Americans.
Fourth of July History for Kids
A basic knowledge of history is an important part of a child's education. So important, in fact, that a National History Day program has been created to encourage students to develop both a solid understanding of the past and the critical thinking skills they need for the future.
And what better way to encourage kids to appreciate history than by combining it with a holiday that they already love?
1. Read About the History of America's Fight for Independence
- Challenge your children to read the Declaration of Independence. Or, better yet, read it with them, and help them figure out what it really means. If you need a cheat sheet for yourself, check out Spark Notes. You can even sign your own name to the Declaration here.
- Learn about the life of Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence. Have your kids take this quiz to see how much they remember.
- Visit your local library to find books that teach children more about the American Revolution and the history behind the Fourth of July. A few great examples include books such as Felicity: An American Girl or The Fourth of July Story.
2. Use Multimedia to Learn More
- Watch one of these free PowerPoint presentations. You can choose from topics such as July 4th, American Revolution, or Thomas Jefferson.
- Historical movies or television shows are a fun way to introduce kids to history. They also provide a great opportunity to explain how book and movie portrayals usually differ from what actually happened in real life. Check out the Liberty's Kids series, or for older children, consider viewing the History Channel's The American Revolution.
- Songs are a fun and easy way for younger children to learn about the Fourth of July. Introduce them to classic patriotic songs like "America The Beautiful" and "God Bless America" by singing them yourself or by putting it on a CD.
3. Play Games
- Visit family-friendly websites to find lots of online games and printable activities. Maybe your child would enjoy a July Fourth Word Search? Or check out the Independence Day Activity Center at Kaboose for many more fun games.
- Love trivia? Check out all the "Fun Facts" that the U.S. Census Bureau has collected for the Fourth of July 2011, then find a way to turn them into a game.
4. Be Creative
- Make a Fourth of July lapbook. Children can cut and paste and decorate their lapbook (which is kind of like an educational version of a scrapbook) with all different types of pictures and historical information about the Fourth of July.
- Learn about the American flag by making American flag crafts.
- Put on a play. Encourage kids to re-enact historical moments from the American Revolution like the signing of The Declaration of Independence or the Boston Tea Party.
5. Get Up Close and Personal
- Plan a family vacation to an historic town like Colonial Williamsburg or one of the many other historic sites from the Revolutionary War on or near the Fourth of July holiday.
- Visit a local museum or historical site to learn more about what the American Revolution was like in the city where you live.
- Often local libraries or museums will organize special events around the Fourth of July to provide kids with hands-on learning experiences. Check local websites or parenting magazines to find out if any of these will be available in your hometown.
Fireworks and backyard barbecues are still my favorite part of the Fourth of July holiday, too. But, this year, let's all make sure that we take a little time to remember why we're celebrating in the first place!