A Historical Look at Memorial Day

Memorial Day usually marks the beginning of lazy summer days, barbecues, and time spent by the pool. But Memorial Day is so much more than a fireworks show — It’s a day to reflect and remember our military personnel who served and died in conflict and war. These brave men and women sacrificed their lives for us to enjoy the freedoms we have today. It’s important to honor the memory of their lives.

So, what are the reasons we celebrate Memorial Day? Let’s go beyond fireworks and take a look at the historical perspective of Memorial Day through these history lesson plans.

Five historical Memorial Day lesson plans

War memorials A great way to understand Memorial Day are war memorials. Both local communities and big cities, such as Washington, D.C., have unique ones for different conflicts and wars. Your children can explore local war memorials — just Google “war memorials near me” and visit them to learn more about how their local community fits inside the history of wars such as World Wars I and II, Vietnam, and more. Have them take photos and gather research to present a report showcasing what they’ve learned from the experience.

Talk to a veteran There’s probably someone in your life who is a veteran. A wonderful way to learn about history is from someone who lived it. Every story is unique, so why not have your child capture it? Have your child set up an interview and create a list of questions. Your homeschooler will not only learn valuable lessons, but the veteran will feel honored to tell his or her story. Have your child get creative! Create a video of the interview (if the veteran feels comfortable), create an audio podcast, or write a newspaper-style article. Don’t forget to file this project as part of your portfolio!

The poppy puzzle Do you know why red poppies are worn on Memorial Day? How did this tradition start? Have your child take this quiz on poppies from TeachingHistory.com to find out how poppies became associated with Memorial Day. After the quiz, there are explanations for each question that will help your child dig deeper into the history. We’ll give your child a hint: there’s another holiday that poppies were originally connected with.

War poetry One of the most famous war poems was written during World War I: “In Flanders Field”, by John McCrae. Ask your teen questions from the National Constitution Center Memorial Day lesson plan as they read the poem. How does McCrae depict hope and despair in the poem? How is war shown through imagery? Is McCrae’s poem still relevant to us today? Use these prompts to discuss and share thoughts about the poem. Have your teen write a thoughtful response to this poem and research other war poems to understand what soldiers went through during conflict.

Learn about women in combat Did you know that 38 WASPs gave their lives in World War II? Or that 60 women died in the Civil War, many disguised as men? Have your teen read about women in combat from the Civil War up until 2009, research one of the women, and write a short biography about their chosen person. Explore historical documents, go to the library to read up on different wars, and even check out the National Archives to dig deeper. The big question to ask is, “What is the role of women in conflict?” This lesson plan will encourage your teen to think about what women went through during wartime.

Honor the fallen

Memorial Day is a special time to pause and reflect on the sacrifice of our nation’s soldiers. From the Revolutionary War to today, every soldier should be honored — not just on Memorial Day, but every day. These history-based lesson plans should provoke thought and appreciation for the freedom we have, all because of our brave military personnel!

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