(Photo by Kenneth Moyle via Flickr)
What are you doing to mark Veteran’s Day this year?
Last year, I called our local American Legion to see if our homeschool group could visit and chat with some of the veterans. No, they said — we’re busy doing presentations at schools all day on November 11. No problem, I replied. We’re a homeschool group. We can fit into your schedule.
So bright and early on November 12, our homeschool group met at the American Legion. The vets were already there, in full colorguard uniform. Unbeknowst to us, they had made plans to re-create the same ceremony they’d performed the day before at the local schools.
The ceremony was great. The fact that these old men, many of them now well into their 60s and beyond, were willing to get up and into uniform early in the morning to teach our children, was moving. But the best part is that because we were homeschoolers, we weren’t bound by the same strict schedules that govern institutional schools. At school, the kids were traipsed into the gym, where they politely watched the ceremony for 20 minutes or so before being marched back to their classrooms.
Our kids had the luxury of time. And so, we stayed. We stayed and talked with the 80+ year old man who marched across Europe with Patten in World War II. We looked at his photo album, and watched his eyes well up with tears when he re-counted his stories.
We talked to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. We talked to a woman who was the first female in her family to serve. And we saw and heard real stories of war and service.
So often, wars and military conflicts are reduced to a few clinical-sounding lines in a textbook. But the reality is much grittier. The reality is that real people with real fears and real families serve in those wars. The reality is that the guys on the other side had real families too.
Want to get a kid excited about history? Let him hear a first hand account. So this Veteran’s Day, I invite you to make it a living celebration. Some suggestions:
- Call the local American Legion and VFW and ask to talk to a vet. Prepare your kids in advance. If possible, find out where and when the veteran served. Research that part of the world and time period. Have the kids write up a few questions, and later, if you want, have to them write a profile of the veteran they interviewed. Other ideas: Let your kids bring along a Flip camera and have them create a documentary of the vets’ experiences.
- Reach out to family members. Odds are good that someone within your extended family has served in the military. Now is the time to ask your Dad to dig out his photo album of this time in the Army.
- Visit a local nursing home. Many of our vets, especially World War II vets, are getting older. Many now live in nursing homes. Why not stop in with a handmade card and thank them for their service? While it’s best to call the nursing home in advance to tell them of your intentions, most will be more than happy to connect you with their veterans.
- Check out a documentary about one of our wars. Your local library is a fabulous resource. Ours has excellent documentaries of just about every American war. You’ll want to make sure, of course, that the documentary is suitable for your children.
- Create a museum display. My boys’ Dad was in the Marines. So one year, to mark Veteran’s Day and the Marine Corps Birthday (which are just a day apart), my boys created a museum-type display to honor their Dad’s service. They included his photo albums, medals and Marine Corps sword, as well as books about the Marine Corps. You can also include projects your kids have made. (And let their creativity shine! One might want to make a miniature representation of an actual battle using cardboard, sand and army guys. Another might want to write a report or draw a picture of a famous solider.)
- Improvise. You know your kids better than anybody else. How would they like to mark the day?
Jennifer L.W. Fink lives and works in southeastern Wisconsin. Her four boys are now 13, 10, 8 and 5. Jennifer blogs about boys, education and parenting at Blogging ‘Bout Boys. Her writing can also be found in Home Education Magazine, Scholastic Instructor, Parents and other national publications.