The Importance of Honoring Our Veterans
November 11th offers the chance to teach children gratitude for the sacrifices made by service men and women.
By Erin Bailey
"We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude." - Cynthia Ozick
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, there are approximately 22 million military veterans living in the United States today. November 11th is our chance to say thank you to those who have made the United States the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Unlike Memorial Day, which honors the battle-fallen, Veterans Day remembers all who have served to protect our nation’s freedom. Whether they volunteered during war or peace time, whether they are living or deceased, our veterans deserve gratitude and remembrance.
A Nation Celebrates Veterans
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, an armistice (or temporary cessation of hostilities) was declared between the countries involved in World War I. After the Treaty of Versailles ended the war, it was November 11th that stuck in people’s minds, and Armistice Day became a national holiday. The name was changed to Veterans Day in 1954 in order to honor World War II and Korean War veterans as well. The United States now celebrates these heroes in several ways. Each year, a wreath-laying ceremony is held at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. Regional veterans’ cemeteries have observances, and communities around the country hold parades. Veterans are also encouraged to wear their medals, which tell the story of his or her time serving the country. History.com offers many videos about the history of Veterans Day.
Involving Children in the Celebration
In 2001, US Senate Resolution 143 called for educational efforts directed at school-age children in regards to the contributions of the nation’s servicemen and women. Schools often hold assemblies to commemorate the holiday. There might even be a war veteran who speaks to the audience about the sacrifices that freedom requires. While this draws attention to the service of millions of US military, there are more active ways to involve children in the celebration.
Reach Out to Living Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs encourages every child, in every school, to write a thank you note to a veteran. If the students in your class do not personally know a veteran, check with your local VFW for names or contact Veterans Affairs for a list of veterans' hospitals which would be happy to distribute mail to their patients. Another idea is to make a video of children reciting patriotic poems or singing patriotic songs.
Older students can interview a veteran. Brainstorm a list of questions, keeping in mind that for many war veterans, talking about actual battles is very difficult. Instead, have interviewers focus on roles that were filled, places that the veteran might have been stationed, and how off-duty time was spent. Photo book sites make it easy to upload text and pictures for compiling the interviews into one book. This would make a thoughtful gift for a local veterans’ organization.
As a class, investigate how your town commemorates veterans. Perhaps there is a park named for a local hero, or a statue standing in front of the public library. Maybe there are trees planted in their honor. After doing some research, have the class brainstorm how they might contribute to a permanent tribute to our veterans.
An internet Veterans Day scavenger hunt is an engaging way for students to learn more about the history of the holiday, as well as the women and men who protect our freedom. Children can also research military medals for one branch of service. This is particularly meaningful for pupils who know someone with one of the medals.
Some teachers put up pictures of famous US battle scenes and ask the class to identify the war in which it took place. To put a twist on this idea, create an interactive bulletin board with the names of the battles hidden beneath flaps that can be lifted to reveal the answers. If placed in the corridor, even more people can participate.
When children think of the military, they might only think of combat soldiers which make up a surprisingly small percentage of the total. Help them recognize that Veterans Day celebrates the contributions of every service person by having your class research the numerous other jobs that enlisted military personnel might have. There are translators, cooks, medical personnel, engineers, and mechanics to name just few. Who can make the longest list?
After your class has researched other roles in the armed forces, challenge them to design a shoebox-sized float to honor the men and women who filled those jobs. When they are complete, put them on display at the library or other public building so the community can share in honoring our veterans.
Among other things, Veterans Day is an opportunity to teach our children to say thank you.
Other ideas from Lesson Planet include:
Young scholars learn the definitions of patriotism and veteran by completing several activities. They also identify key symbols of patriotism such as the flag, the national anthem, and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Pupils read the poem “Vigil” by Guisseppi Ungaretti and the article “The Screaming Eagles Fly to the Gulf” in preparation for an interview with a veteran. They do background research to better understand how a soldier prepares to go off to war. The interview focuses on the soldier’s experience of leaving home and traveling abroad. Finally learners write a tribute of the interviewed soldier’s experience.
This technology-rich plan incorporates math and ELA standards with the study of veterans. In it, middle school and secondary learners gather and analyze military data to be used in PowerPoint presentation. They learn about major conflicts as well as data management.