What comes to mind when you think of Memorial Day? A day off work? The weekend when the pool is opened? People selling poppies in front of stores? If you polled some of the children you know, what would they say?
Maybe it’s time to do some intentional teaching about this holiday and why we observe it.
You can start by doing online research with students to help them learn more about Memorial Day. You may want to include Veterans Day, too, since many people confuse these two American holidays. Memorial Day, which began as Decoration Day, is always celebrated on the last Monday in May. It is the day set aside for remembering all those who have died fighting in wars to protect our country and freedom. Veterans Day, on the other hand, is celebrated on November 11 to thank all the men and women who are alive who have served in the military during wars and peaceful times.
Older students should be able to understand the sacrifices military personnel make. Teach them to show honor for those who have given their lives in service for others and to respect the sacrifices of their families too. Younger children do not need to know about all the details of war, but you can tell them that Memorial Day is the time we say thank-you for those who have died keeping us safe from enemies. All children, young and old, can learn empathy and thankfulness for the service of others. This helps them to learn respect for others, and it also plants the seeds of learning to serve in their own hearts.
Here are a few activities you can do together:
- Invite children to pretend they are in a parade. Give them instruments or scarves to wave as they march around the room. Play some patriotic music. When you are done marching, say a prayer of thanks for those who have served our country.
- Talk with children about ways to show honor and respect. Brainstorm ways and times they can show respect (e.g., having boys remove hats in church or at events).
- Hand out bottles of water at a Memorial Day parade or ceremony. Label the bottles with your church information, and include a note inviting people to come hear about Jesus, who served us all by dying on the cross to pay for our sins.
- Talk about why we put flowers or wreaths on the graves of loved ones. Point out that flowers represent the transient nature of our life on earth: here for a brief while and then gone.
- Collect money to give as a class donation to a charity for veterans.
- Make a red, white, and blue snack using fruit or Jell-O. Help students start thinking about the many ways they can serve others.
- Send a thank-you letter to encourage someone serving in the military. Your church may have a list of names to choose from or your students may know someone personally to whom they can send a note.
- As a class, collect items for care packages to give to those from your congregation who serve in the military.
- Pray for those in the military, asking God to keep them safe. Pray also that they would come to believe in Jesus, who saved us from our greatest enemies of sin, death, and the devil to give us eternal life with Him.
- Make Remembrance Poppies using the instructions below. Give them to church members after your church service on Memorial Day weekend.
- Red paper
- Green paper
- Single-hole punch
- White school glue
- Fine-tip marker
- Green chenille wire, 2 per flower
- Petal & leaf patterns (click here)
Photocopy the petal and leaf patterns to make nine red petals and two green leaves per student.
- Cut out nine flower petals. Cut along the dotted line to make a 1-inch slit in the base of each petal. Punch a hole on each side of the slit, as indicated on the pattern.
- Cut out two leaves.
- Glue the end of a chenille wire about halfway up the middle of the back of the leaf, as the center vein of the leaf.
- Glue the second leaf on top of the first leaf, sandwiching the wire in the middle of the leaves. Set aside to dry.
- String nine petals onto a second chenille wire, bending each petal at its base so the two holes overlap. This gives the petal a cup shape where it connects to the stem.
- Make the petals fan out radially. Bend the top of the chenille wire like a hook so the petals stay in place. Likewise, make a bend in the wire just under the petals.
- Place the two wires next to each other, with the leaf just below the flower. Wind them together to make a stem.
- Glue a pom-pom in the middle of the flower. The pom-pom will cover the top of the chenille wire and will help to hold the petals in place according to your arrangement.
As students work, tell them that red poppies are a symbol for remembrance on Memorial Day. Older students may be interested in finding more information online about how they came to be reminders of soldiers who have died in wars. When you’ve finished making the flowers, pray, thanking God for those who died in service to our country and for those serving in the military now.