Raising a Patriot-Teaching Patriotism and Citizenship on the Home Front
By Kerry Cordy
Patriotism is defined as a love of or devotion to one’s country, but before we can teach our children to be patriotic, we must first teach them why. What is it about our country that inspires such strong feelings in its citizens? What exactly is this American Spirit we hear about so often? Encourage your children to think about what kind of country they live in. What opportunities and freedoms are available to them that other countries do not offer? Once they understand why they should be patriotic, then you can move on to showing them ways to implement patriotism into their everyday lives.
To truly understand America as a nation, one must first understand some of the history that brought us to this point. Woodrow Wilson, President during World War I, summarized it well when he stated, “A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do.” First review the basics of American history with your child. Why did the colonists come to America and what made our founding fathers declare independence from England? What was their vision for the future of our country?
One great resource to begin this journey is The American Heritage Education Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan educational foundation dedicated to the understanding and teaching of America’s factual and philosophical heritage. They provide free lesson plans for teachers in K-12 grades that promote constructive citizenship with a focus on freedom, unity, progress, and responsibility. Visit www.americanheritage.org to request a copy of their “Adventures in Liberty” program. This program not only presents historical facts but also provides opportunities for students to explore and understand the factual and philosophical significance and meaning behind events—the whys—relating to and influencing the early history of the United States.
Who are we as Americans? America is the only nation in the world that is based not on a tribe, a religion, or a conquering power, but rather upon a principle. Freedom. According to George William Curtis, “A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.” Ever since the birth of our beloved nation in 1776 there have been Americans who have exhibited a love and pride of our country through patriotic efforts that have contributed greatly to the good of our glorious country. Having your children read the biographies or stories of some of these individuals will help give them a better idea of what patriotism truly means. The website www.colonialhall.com contains 103 biographical sketches of America’s founding fathers and www.usa-patriotism.com has several stories of American patriots from both the past and present.
Americans come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and socio-economic backgrounds. E Pluribus Unum…From the many, one. This is the motto clutched in the beak of the eagle on our national seal. Most children today are not taught this national motto, and even fewer truly understand its meaning. People have come to America from all over the world and the strength of our nation lies in the diversity of its citizens…their histories, their religions, their foods, their stories, their art and music. Regardless of where our citizens came from or what pieces of their heritage they have brought with them, they all share a common goal, to be an American and create a brighter future for themselves and their country. (To learn more about our great seal and the meanings behind its symbols and mottoes, visit www.greatseal.com )
With diversity comes differing opinions however. The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “patriotism does not require one to agree with everything that his country does and should actually promote analytical questioning in a quest to make the country the best it possibly can be.” Being a patriot does not mean that you will always agree with everything our government does, but rather that you will do everything you can to help ensure that our country remains strong and that we protect the very freedoms that were the basis for our independence.
For more than 200 years thousands of brave men and women have died for the freedoms we enjoy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and many more. Regardless of whether or not you agree with how our government uses our military, appreciation and gratitude should be shown to the men and women who are willing to sacrifice so much to protect not only the people of their own country, but so many others around the world. Have your child learn about the 7 branches of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, Coast Guard and the Reserves.) Then choose a service project from below to show your appreciation to these courageous individuals.
• Write letters or make cards of gratitude to send to soldiers serving overseas or to give to your local veterans.
• Send care packages to soldiers overseas through the Adopt A Platoon program. (www.adoptaplatoon.org)
• If you live near a military base, contact the local Family Group Organizer to help support the families of our military that are left at home.
• November is Military Family month. Adopt a military family near you to show your support for the sacrifices they make. Make them cards, bring them dinner, or even weed their yard; anything to show them that you appreciate the sacrifices they make in doing without a loved one so the rest of us can stay safely at home.
Just two of the freedoms we enjoy are the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press and it is our responsibility as citizens to make our voices heard. If you like what our government is doing, let them know, but if you don’t, let them know that too. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where we get to vote on everything from who our leaders will be to how our children will be educated. Every citizen who is legally able should vote if they truly want to make a difference. The next time you vote, make sure to bring your children with you. You will not only be a role model for them, but will give them first hand experience on how our country is run. Teach your children the importance of how our legislating system works by going to www.congressforkids.net .
One of the most recognizable patriotic symbols is that of our flag. Though it has changed many times over our history, its symbolism remains strong. Below are several ways to teach your child about the importance of our flag and the respect that it is due.
• Learn the Pledge of Allegiance and what each sentence means. In 1969 Red Skelton recited the Pledge of Allegiance and spoke about what each sentence means. If you have never heard his recitation or read his inspiring words visit www.redskelton.com .
• Make a diagram of the American Flag labeling all its parts including the hoist, peak, fly, staff, halyard, and union. Learn the correct number of stars and the order of the stripes. If a new state were added tomorrow, where would the new star be placed and on what date would it officially be added?
• What are the rules for proper display and use of the United States Flag according to the Federal Flag Code approved by Congress (public law 829). Learn how to properly fold a flag.
• Study the history of the American flag and how it changed over the years. Where does the original “Star Spangled Banner” that flew over Fort McHenry now hang? How big is it?
• When a flag becomes too worn or faded it should be retired with honor, burned, and the ashes disposed of in a respectful manner. Visit your local Veterans Association for their next flag retirement ceremony.
Once your child fully understands how our country came into being and why they should be proud to be a part of it you can then put their patriotism into action. Several ideas from crafts to community service are listed below.
• Make a patriotic craft. There are hundreds of websites offering free patriotic crafts such as: www.allcrafts.net/patriotic.htm#projects ; www.marthastewart.com ; www.makingfriends.com/patriotic_crafts.htm or www.familyfun.com .
• Create a list of patriotic songs and poems and research their history. Examples may include Yankee Doodle, Battle Hymn of the Republic, America the Beautiful, God Bless America, or the National Anthem.
• Use your camera to take pictures of signs of patriotism in your community. These may be actual symbols such as an American Flag or a yellow ribbon, or people doing things like saying the Pledge of Allegiance, voting, making speeches, city council meetings, etc. Make a montage of your picture to present it to your city council.
• Write a poem or create a piece of art about what your country means to you.
• Take a field trip. Visit an American History Museum, a Civil War Days re-enactment, or take a virtual field trip like www.whitehousemuseum.org . Contact your local VFW post or American Legion Hall to witness a flag retirement ceremony or visit your local city hall or state capital.
• Participate in a community service project that supports our military or veterans. Write letters or make cards of thanks, send care packages through www.adoptaplatoon.org , do a performance of some kind for your local veterans or go to www.freedomwalkkidsofamerica.com to learn how to organize a Freedom Walk.
• Learn about and celebrate the 10 Federal holidays by visiting www.patriotism.org .The US government thought these days important enough to ask the entire country to stop what they are doing and think about what the day stands for. Why do you think these days are important and what do they mean to you?
For more ideas and resources visit:
www.usa-patriotism.com – Here you will find thousands of pages of patriotic heartfelt poems, articles, essays and stories. There are tributes to heroes, troops, veterans, presidents, and other great Americans as well as famous quotes, photos, thoughts, music, and images. Find references of interest, listings of great sites and worthy charities, solemn remembrances of national tragedies including September 11, 2001 and a store with over a 1000 American themed gifts in many categories.
www.patriotic-education.org/patriotic_links – This a great site for multiple links to a variety of patriotic sites.
www.abcteach.com/directory/theme_units/us_patriotism/ – Here you will find a patriotism theme unit, coloring page, booklet ideas, writing prompts, word games and more.
www.midgefrazel.net/patriotism.html – This site has a variety of lesson plans, virtual field trips, crafts, holidays, and symbols of government.