Beginning as Decorating Day for those Union and Confederate soldiers dying in the Civil War, Memorial Day is now a national holiday that honors those who died while actively serving in the military. Giving the ultimate sacrifice, recognizing their contribution to the development of our nation enjoys because of their acts deserves attention and recognition within our classrooms. Read below for ideas that’ll help you inspire your students to think beyond the typical things associated with this holiday–fireworks, cookouts, and parades.
Visit a local or national memorial honoring fallen soldiers. If this isn’t an option, get high-quality pictures of the national monuments for the World Wars, Vietnam, and Korea. Divide the different memorials into smaller groups and study the design significance and the meaning of each one. Have students compare the way the memorials are designed and contrast them. Explore how history informed the design from the artists who created them. Share the findings with the class, and then for an extension, have students create a monument design for the recent wars our country engaged in.
Study the red poppy and how it came to be a symbol for this solemn day. Students can read and analyze Lt. Col. John McCrae’s “In Flanders’ Field,” noting the time and place in which it was written. Discuss what the red poppy symbolizes and how Monia Michael became inspired by it to start the National Poppy Movement1. Purchase some from the Veterans of Foreign Wars–all donations go back to serving the military–or have kids make their own.
Building on the poetry that McCrae and Michael wrote, have students create their own poems honoring a fallen soldier, Memorial Day in general, or describing the sentiment surrounding wars fought in our country. For instance, students can talk about the forgotten soldiers of the Vietnam War or World War 1, the politics surrounding the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, or the consequences resulting from the American Revolution and Civil Wars. They can study other wartime poets, including Homer, Robert Graves, Phillis Wheatley, Margaret Postgate Cole, and Cesar Vallejo.
Research those dying in war from your town, county, and/or state. Make a temporary memorial with their names, rank, and date of death (pictures would be a great bonus) and post it in the school, then donate it to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars or other local military organization. See if someone you know or a classmate has any relation to any of the fallen soldiers by asking family members or researching online genealogy resources. You can use the Research in Military Records to get the information on wars fought earlier in our country’s history.
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