The first week of November, during my library lessons, I would ask the children what important day is coming up this month? They would always respond, “Thanksgiving.” I would tell them that there is another important day besides Thanksgiving that happens on November 11th. Then the children would often say something like, “Oh yeah, isn’t that when the planes crashed into the twin towers?”
Veterans Day is often overlooked or completely forgotten. We hardly think about it until we notice flags on our way to work or hear a news story, realizing only then that it is Veterans Day. Actually, teaching children about Veterans Day and thanking our veterans is a great way to start November, the month of gratitude.
Here are 11 things to teach children about Veterans Day.
1. Veterans Day is on November 11th and the date has significance. After World War I, an armistice was signed on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour following what was hoped to be “the war to end all wars.” Originally called Armistice Day, the name was eventually changed to Veterans Day when the hope of no more war ended with World War II.
2. On Veterans Day at 11 a.m. a special ceremony honoring all veterans takes place in Washington D.C. in Arlington National Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In 1921 an unknown World War I soldier was buried in this sacred place that symbolizes respect and reverence for all American veterans.
3. A veteran is anyone who has served in the United States armed forces — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Children are fascinated by books about the military and love the challenge of being able to name all five branches. You can find nonfiction books like these and many more at your school or local library to expand their understanding of the military.
4. Veterans Day is different than Memorial Day. On Memorial Day we honor those who gave their lives serving our country. On Veterans Day we honor all who have honorably served our country, particularly those who are living. Informational books like these are great to read to elementary age children to help them understand these two different days of remembrance.
5. Veterans are men and women, moms and dads, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Sometimes children think veterans are only male. These two books written for young children show males and females in the military.
6. There are both young and old veterans. Children are usually quite surprised to learn people in their 20s and 30s served in the military and are veterans.
7. Veterans serve in the armed forces in both wartime and times of peace. I’ve often heard children say, “my grandpa served in the Navy but he didn’t go to war so he’s not a veteran.” Anytime someone honorably serves in the armed forces, they are protecting our country and deserve our respect and thanks.
8. Men and women who have honorably served in our military but are no longer serving are veterans. Children sometimes say, “my cousin was in the army so she used to be a veteran, but she isn’t anymore.” Those who have formerly served in the armed forces are veterans.
9. Some veterans don’t get to come home after a war and may still be missing (MIA). I love to share this book with my students in the library and set a white table for them to see. Reading this book as a family and setting your own white table is a simple and wonderful way to honor the veterans we can’t thank for their service personally or with a written note. You can visit the author’s website for more information about this book and tradition.
10. You may personally know a veteran. Children are proud when they realize they know a veteran. Once they learn about veterans, children are excited to share the stories of the veterans they know. Give them an opportunity to share those stories and learn new stories about veterans close to them. If you don’t personally know a veteran, you can teach your children using these books about one of the most amazing veterans I have been blessed to know, Gail Halvorsen, the remarkable Candy Bomber of the Berlin Airlift.
11. Veterans are surprised when they are remembered and thanked. Each year, the children who visited my library were invited to make thank you cards for veterans. Those cards were given to veterans the children knew, veterans in our small community, and veterans in care centers and hospitals. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a surprised and heart-felt, “Thank you for remembering me,” from the recipients.
On Veterans Day we honor ALL who have served. How will you thank a veteran on November 11th?