Teaching your children about Independence Day

Take time this Fourth of July to teach your children about the history of this special day.


Most Americans have a basic understanding of why we celebrate Independence Day. July 4 is the day our country celebrates our independence as a nation. While the official date was designated as a holiday in 1948, the tradition of celebrating the signing of the declaration of independence goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution.

The Continental Congress voted in favor of independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. A committee was established to write a formal statement explaining their decision. Interestingly, due to this vote, John Adams believed that July 2 was the day that should be celebrated and would turn down invitations to celebrate Independence Day on July 4! The formal statement was mostly written by Thomas Jefferson, it was formally adopted on July 4 and would go on to be known as the Declaration of Independence.

The first annual celebration of independence occurred on July 4, 1777, and has continued to be celebrated annually since. Massachusetts became the first state to formally make July 4 a holiday in 1781. Following the War of 1812, the holiday took on greater significance, as the United States had again faced Great Britain. Although the political nature of the holiday has faded some with time, since the late 19 century Americans have used this mid-summer holiday as a time to gather with their friends and family, to barbecue, picnic, have parades and fireworks.

Michigan State University Extension offers the following suggestions to teach your children about Independence Day.

  • Read books about the history of the United States of America. There are many great books that summarize the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the establishment of our country. Check out “The Declaration of Independence (True Books)” by Elaine Landau, “The Fourth of July Story” by Alice Dalgliesh and “The Declaration of Independence from A to Z” by Catherine Osornio
  • Make a flag craft. Teach your children about why the flag looks like it does. There is one star for each state and 13 stripes representing the original colonies. Learn about the special requirements for how the flag should be treated. A great book about the flag and other American symbols to read with your children is “Fireworks, Picnics, and Flags: The Story of the Fourth of July Symbols” by James Cross Giblin.
  • Learn the words to the Star Spangled Banner. America’s national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, began as a poem written by Francis Scott Key when he was deeply moved by the sight of the flag flying the morning after the Battle of Baltimore. A great book to learn more about our national anthem is “The Story of the Star Spangled Banner” by Patricia Pingry.

Enjoy celebrating and learning about America’s independence with your children. Happy Independence Day from Michigan State University Extension!

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