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Patriotic Holidays: Educational Resources & Lesson Plans

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Most students are familiar with our country’s patriotic holidays, simply because they have the day off from school on some of them. However, many students do not know the reasons why these patriotic holidays are celebrated. The Internet is a vast resource of knowledge and lessons that teachers can use in teaching the true meaning and significance of patriotic holidays to their students. Using these educational resources and lesson plans, teachers can help their students learn why these holidays are celebrated and help them become more mindful of each special date.

Labor Day

Labor Day started in 1884, when the Knights of Labor Union in New York City held a parade and celebration honoring the working class on the first Monday in September. In 1887, Labor Day was declared a state holiday by Oregon, Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. It wasn’t until 1894 that Congress officially made Labor Day a national holiday. Labor Day now usually signals the end of the summer and the start of a new school year, in addition to its original purpose of celebrating America’s working class.

  • Labor Day Newspaper: In this lesson, students in grades 3-7 learn about the history of Labor Day in the United States, and then write articles to be compiled into a newspaper.
  • Helping Teens Find, Get and Keep a Job: This site provides a Language Arts lesson plan targeted at grades 8 through 12. It teaches students about labor laws for teenagers, how to search for jobs and how to fill out job applications.
  • Labor Day Song Lyrics: This teaching song by John McCutcheon helps students learn about the origins and purpose of Labor Day.
  • Labor Day Lesson Plan: This site provides a reading comprehension lesson plan for older elementary students about Labor Day.

Constitution/Citizenship Day

Constitution Day commemorates the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. It celebrates the birth of the U.S. Government. This holiday is also known as Citizenship Day, in which Americans show pride in their citizenship. The idea of Citizenship Day began in 1940, and the date of September 17 was decided by American citizens. The holiday “officially” changed to Constitution Day in 1952.

  • Interactive Constitution: Sponsored by the National Constitution Center, this site features an interactive Constitution, searchable by keyword.
  • Citizenship Education: This site from the Tom Burnett Family Foundation for middle school students helps educators teach students how to become better citizens.

United Nations Day

United Nations Day was declared in 1947 to be celebrated yearly on October 24. This holiday celebrates the anniversary of the date the Charter of the United Nations was signed. United Nations Day is not only recognized as a holiday in the United States, but also as a public holiday by all states who are members of the United Nations. The entire week containing United Nations Day is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the achievements of the United Nations.

  • Lesson Plan: The United Nations: Sponsored by Learning to Give, this site offers a lesson plan targeted at grades 9 through 12 on rebuilding the peace after World War II.
  • Against All Odds: This site offers an interactive game for students to put them in the role of a refugee.

Election Day

Election Day in the United States is held on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. The reason that this strange date was selected is twofold. One, when Election Day was established, many Americans were farmers, and were done with the growing season by November. Two, Tuesday was chosen to give Americans who lived far from the polls enough time to get there, even if they lived so far away that they had to leave Monday to do so.

  • Election Day Lesson Plan: Sponsored by Scholastic, this site offers a lesson plan for grades 3 through 8 to help them follow Election Day coverage.
  • POV: Election Day Lesson Plan: Sponsored by the PBS program “POV,” this site provides a lesson plan to be used in conjunction with the film “Election Day.”
  • Track the Polls Lesson Plan: This site offers a lesson plan for grades 6 through 12 in which students can track poll results prior to Election Day.

Veterans Day

Held on November 11, the day that the Armistice ending World War I was signed, Veterans Day is a yearly United States holiday that honors veterans of our military. Around the world, it is often known as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day, as the Armistice was signed by the Germans at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, ending World War I. In 1971, the U.S. Government changed the date of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October, to comply with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and make it easier for public schools and businesses to close on that day. They moved the holiday back to its original date, November 11, in 1978.

  • Veterans In My Family Lesson Plan: This lesson plan which can be tailored for students from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 creates a visual memory of students’ family members who are veterans.
  • This Was War Lesson Plan: This lesson plan from a public school in Florida uses literature to teach students about war.

Thanksgiving

Originally started as a harvest festival, Thanksgiving today is commonly associated with thanking God for our blessings. It has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November since 1863. Although it was conceived as a religious holiday, Thanksgiving is now a widely accepted secular holiday. Children often learn about the Pilgrims coming to America and their first meal with the Native Americans celebrating the first Thanksgiving.

  • Native Americans in Olden Times: This site provides a variety of lesson plans for different ages to help teachers teach students about how Native Americans lived in the old days.
  • Thanksgiving Essay & Bulletin Board: This site provides a lesson plan for middle school language arts students, in which they write an essay on what they’re thankful for and help create a bulletin board about Thanksgiving.
  • Lesson Plan – Thanksgiving: This site offers a lesson plan to teach students about how the Thanksgiving holiday originated and what it means today.

Bill of Rights Day

The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, also known as the Bill of Rights, came into effect on December 15, 1791, a day which has since come to be known as Bill of Rights Day. The purpose of the Bill of Rights is to set limits on what the federal government can and cannot do. It protects personal liberties such as the right to exercise freedom of religion, free speech, and guarantees due process of law. This day is recognized annually in commemorating the ratification of the Bill of Rights as a symbol of our freedoms. 

  • Bill of Rights Day Mini Unit: This site provides a unit for fifth grade teachers to use to teach students about the significance of Bill of Rights Day.
  • Activity Page: Bill of Rights: This site presents an activity for teachers to use with students in determining certain situations which violate the Bill of Rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a U.S. Federal Holiday which celebrates the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. King advocated nonviolent civil disobedience during his lifetime. He was assassinated in 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has been celebrated on January 15 annually since 1986 in honor of the birth of this great American.

Presidents Day

Celebrated on the third Monday in February, Presidents Day is a federal holiday that is also known as Washington’s Birthday. It was first celebrated on February 22 in 1880 in honor of the birthday of our first President. In 1971, the holiday was changed to the third Monday in February under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Today Presidents Day commemorates the birthdays of both George Washington (February 22) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12).

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May. This federal holiday honors U.S. military members who died defending our country. First held in 1866 to honor those who died in the Civil War, Memorial Day was originally held on May 5, then moved to May 30. In 1968, it was changed to the last Monday in May to comply with the Uniform Holidays Bill, creating a three-day weekend. Some say that the true meaning of Memorial Day has been lost since moving the holiday, as it now just signifies a day off work or school to most people.

  • Graphing Our History of Sacrifice Lesson Plan: Sponsored by the National Education Association, this site presents a lesson plan for grades 3 through 12 in which students create a graph of men and women who have lost their lives serving in wars.
  • Memorial Day Shoebox Parade: This site by the National Education Association offers a lesson plan for grades 3 through 12 in which students make shoebox floats for a mock parade to commemorate different soldiers throughout our history.

Flag Day

Held each year on June 14, Flag Day commemorates the date in 1777 that the U.S. flag was adopted nationally, by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. The holiday was proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson as a national holiday in 1916. An Act of Congress passed in 1949 established National Flag Day as a holiday. Although not an official federal holiday, Flag Day and the week in which it occurs is celebrated nationally and the U.S. flag is displayed on all government buildings during that week.

  • Flag Day Web Quest: This site presents a Web Quest for students to use to explore the meaning and significance of Flag Day using the Internet.
  • Interactive Flag: Sponsored by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, this site offers an interactive American flag that students can click on to learn more about the flag.

Independence Day

Also called the Fourth of July, Independence Day commemorates the date in 1776 when the United States adopted the Declaration of Independence, declaring our nation independent from Great Britain. Perhaps the most publicly patriotic of all holidays, this day is commonly celebrated through parades, fireworks, and barbecues. The Declaration of Independence was actually signed by most delegates on August 2, 1776. In 1938, Independence Day was declared by Congress to be a national paid federal holiday.  

  • Class Independence Day Ceremony: This site offers a unit teachers can use to teach about Independence Day, including vocabulary, flag information, monuments information, and more.
  • Independence Day Lesson Plan: This lesson plan is targeted at older elementary students and works on vocabulary and comprehension in teaching about Independence Day.