Monday, July 4, 2016


America's 4th of July is a great celebration! But why? Here are some of the Who, What, Where, When, and Whys that will help lay a foundation for understanding this national holiday.

For many families, the learning really begins in the excitement of the fireworks, in the parades and the candy, in the waving of flags.Then the kids ask, "What's so special about the Fourth of July anyway?"

1. What: The Declaration of Independence was ratified on this day in 1776. Older students can delve into the actual words of this document and discover its purpose as stated in the words of the very Founders of the United States. Younger students can be told why the 4th of July is considered the "birthday" of the United States. Students of a variety of ages can memorize the introduction and/or the preamble, or read them out loud with some patriotic music playing in the background.

2. Who: Thomas Jefferson gets a lot of attention regarding the Declaration of Independence, and very rightfully so. BUT students can also hear about John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and their roles in the creation of this document. Students can make sense of Benjamin Franklin's feelings at this time that the colonists must "hang together" or surely "hang separately". Very often overlooked in the study of the Declaration is also the person of King George, but in some ways, there would have been no Declaration had it not been for the choices of King George. (You've got to love the rather lengthy list of grievances the Founders had against the King, as listed directly in the text of the Declaration.)

3. When: Though July 4th is the date celebrated as the birthday of the United States, the work of writing took many days during that summer of 1776. Also, investigate why John Adams predicted that the 2nd of July would be a day of "pomp", "parade" and "illuminations". 

4. Where: Though Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is an obvious choice of locations to mention, it is the perfect chance to point out all 13 of the original colonies and also the location of England.

5. Why: The very best way to see the answer to this question is to read the text of the declaration itself, which explains right at the outset what the reasons were for the 13 colonies to declare their independence from England. Older students can contemplate the questions of whether the decision was justified and imagine whether or not such a document would ever be needed in the future.

6. Effects: What different reactions did colonists have when this document was read aloud throughout the colonies? What was King George's reaction? Also important to note here is that in some ways, the United States Declaration of Independence became the groundwork for many other countries in the years following. See, for instance, France a decade later.

7. Where does it fit? Some people mistakenly remember the Declaration of Independence as the beginning of the American Revolution, but studying the events ten years before and after 1776 help put the Declaration in perspective.

8. Visualize the Declaration: John Trumbull, for example, painted "The Declaration of Independence" in which he paid attention to detail as to the location and appearance of people's faces. Look, also at a copy of the original document. Some students may wish to copy a small part of the Declaration onto some parchment or "aged" paper.

9. Other resources: There are so many great books written for children about the Declaration of Independence, the Fourth of July, and the people who had a hand in making the history of this date. There are also videos that might be appropriate for your children (as always, you may choose to preview these first yourself). Liberty's Kids has an episode about the Declaration of Independence, and the History Channel made an "American Revolution" series which more advanced students might find useful.

10. Other ideas: Of course, finding ways to celebrate the 4th of July as the birthday of the United States leaves plenty of room for fun! Red, white, and blue food and crafts, local parades and fireworks, and patriotic music set the stage for creating a feeling that "There's something special about the 4th of July!" 

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