The cost of celebrating Memorial Day

If you know my family then you know that Memorial Day is a particularly emotional holiday for us. It isn’t about an extra day off of work. It isn’t about barbecues with our friends. It’s about remembering a beloved son, brother, uncle, cousin, friend and his sacrifice for our country. My dad’s older brother, Bill, was killed in action (KIA) in the Vietnam War. Not only did Bill sacrifice his life for our country, but also my grandparents gave up their son; my dad and uncle gave up their brother. The pain trickles down each generation leaving questions of “Why?” and “What if?” behind. Our story is not rare. Many families are touched by the effects of war and by the sacrifice it demands. It is important we keep an appropriate perspective during this holiday weekend and do not forget what it means. We must teach our children the importance of Memorial Day and why we celebrate it.

We live in an amazing country and I am so proud to be a citizen of the United States of America. It’s true that our country does not always make the best decisions and I am not feeling too terribly proud of our American attitude right now. However, that has does not take away from the astounding story of our country. From the very beginning we have fought for our rights. Many, many men and women have given up their live so that we could all be called Americans.

This is a challenging thing to teach a preschooler. To them, sacrifice means giving up the last fruit snack to their mom because she really loves them. It can get complicated starting with the fact that they cannot truly comprehend what a ‘country’ even is. I try to give them symbols, songs and art to inspire respect and awe in our country. Understanding sacrifice will follow in later years. Furthermore, death is a tricky thing for young children to understand. You don’t want to scare them or really even open that can of worms unless completely necessary.

Meghan's son Ayrton riding an antique fire truck at the Greater Rochester Heritage Days Festival.

Meghan’s son Ayrton riding an antique fire truck at the Greater Rochester Heritage Days Festival.

When introducing any topic to a young child I always start with a reading a book on the topic and then have a few available for the child to peruse at their leisure. Scholastic has a group of books that I always use for Memorial Day and Fourth of July. They are amazing! “America the Beautiful,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” The Pledge of Allegiance,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” are in the patriotic group. The pictures are beautiful and these books will teach your child the words to these important songs and of course, the almost forgotten “Pledge of Allegiance.”

A picture is worth a thousand words so I always start with our flag: Old Glory, The Star Spangled Banner, The Red, White & Blue, and my personal favorite: The Stars & Stripes. Oh, I just love our flag. Children can’t touch or see liberty or freedom, but the flag is tangible and is a good jumping-off point. Naturally we read a lot of books about the American flag. I describe each symbol on our flag and what it stands for. This reinforces shape and color knowledge. We use star-shaped cookie cutters to paint with. Simply dip them in white paint and then press onto blue paper. Attach red and white paper strips as the stripes. We also use star-shaped sponges and simply paint on the red and white stripes. You can hang on the wall as is or attach to a paint stick. We decorate paper with red, white and blue star stickers. The main objective is that a preschooler should walk away knowing that the colors on our flag are red, white and blue with some general understanding of the placement of these symbols. They should also be able to recognize a picture or photograph of the American flag. Today we picked up three small American flags for a dollar at Michael’s.

Once they have been exposed to the American flag and understand it symbolizes our freedom and unity then we move on to “The Pledge of Allegiance.” I use Scholastic’s book and read it many times. I will often recite it during transition times such as changing diapers, potty time, preparing lunch, or getting ready to go outside. This repetition helps a young child memorize the words. Their brains are sponges that are always learning! I break down each phrase and explain it so they can better understand the meaning. Here’s how I do it:

I pledge allegiance – I promise to always be nice

To the flag – to the flag

Of the United States of America – Of our space where we live

And to the Republic – (I don’t really address this because I feel it is over the head’s of many preschoolers.)

For which it stands

One Nation under God – we are one group under God

Indivisible – always together

With liberty – a lot of choices

And justice – being fair

For all – for everyone.

It’s very simple and helps a child understand what they are saying. It’s very touching to hear a group of three year olds saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

I play CD’s of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” We also listen to “America the Beautiful.” The kids love marching around singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “This Land Is Your Land.” We eat red strawberries, blueberries and marshmallows for a patriotic snack. I set up a voting area so children can fill out what they want for various activities throughout the day. I place slips of paper along with writing utensils next to two buckets. For example, the issue will be reading our story with the lights on or the lights off. Each child gets the opportunity to vote by making their mark on a paper and placing it in the appropriate bucket that corresponds to their answer. We talk about how easy it is to vote or choose in our country, but in other parts of the world it can be very hard or impossible.

As I stated before it can be very tricky to discuss war and death with children. For me, I grew up hearing the story of my uncle being killed in war so I don’t really ever remember being scared by it. It only made me sad. You have to help them understand that our country is special and that unfortunately, due to sinful human nature, we have to fight to protect the freedoms we enjoy here. Fighting means hurting others and it doesn’t always make sense but sometimes there is no other way. I explain there are a lot of people who don’t get to come home to their families and it’s important that we never forget them, even if we never met them. America is that special.

There are a myriad of children’s books and CD’s available on Amazon. You can also follow my Memorial Day board on Pinterest ( for many other ideas. My family loves attending the Greater Rochester Heritage Day Festival at the Rochester Municipal Park. It will be open Saturday, May 25 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday, May 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. There are Civil War reenactments, folk music, car shows, and arts & crafts. Follow Greater Rochester Heritage Days on Facebook for updates and a complete list of activities.

This week the organization Sevenly, is hosting a campaign for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. TAPS is a charity that provides help and support for families who have lost a loved one in war. Sevenly is such an interesting group. They have items available to buy, mostly t-shirts, with unique artwork on them and $7 of each item purchased will go to the particular charity of the week. Get your t-shirt now because it will only be available for only seven days. Visit to help the campaign and to find out more about helping care for those people left behind.

About Meghan Zeile

Mom-in-the-know and local writer for Rochester Media. Always looking for tips with kids, family life, and fun local adventures. Contact at

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