Our school wide Memorial Day remembrance some years ago with General Zukauskas and Cadet Crampton was stirring and moving, to say the least. I think holding the American flag and singing patriotic songs, particularly “The Star Spangled Banner”, were quite meaningful to us. Children worked hard to learn the words to the song and to understand our flag. Since the rain kept us indoors for the ceremony, we were unable to plant two small American flags for Greg and Travis in our school Memory Garden that day. Greg and Travis were part of General Zukauskas’ troops, and died in the line of duty. We planted the flags earlier in the week, on a sunny day, in a very low-key and age appropriate fashion. Many of my Aqua Room children watched.
While we were outside on the playground, a child asked if we could look at Greg and Travis’ flags. “Of course”, I said, as we strolled over together. After standing in silence for a few moments I asked, “Do you want to say anything?” “Can we sing the star banner song?”, the child asked. “You mean “The Star Spangled Banner?”, I asked. As we both sang together, we were joined by two other children, wanting to sing, too. After we finished the song another child said, “Old Mr. Wyatt was in the Army. He died a long time ago. Can we sing for him?” Again we sang the National Anthem and the song drew more children to participate. Then another child said, “My Uncle Jack was in a war. He died. Can we sing for him?” Yes, we sang again, and drew even more children into this tender moment. We sang again for for all the soldiers in heaven, and yet again for our troops overseas.
Five times we sang “The Star Spangled Banner”, and each time it was a child who wanted and needed to sing for someone they knew. Everyone stood proud and placed their hand over their heart while looking at those two small American flags. Children understand.
Music is both powerful and intimate. It can make you rise up with passion, testing and confirming your values. It can also ground you so that you see, feel and understand the simplest and most important things in life. Both seem to happen with patriotic songs. It certainly happened singing “The Star Spangled Banner” in the Memory Garden.
Many years ago I discovered Peter Spier’s book, The Star Spangled Banner. He illustrates each line in the song. This book is enormous in teaching children our National Anthem, because it puts a picture to all the words. Understanding ‘rampart’ and ‘towering steep’ becomes clear. And, the book covers all the verses of the song. This is the visual to understand our National Anthem and appreciate all it represents. It takes me thirty minutes to read the book to my class, because every page has so many things to talk about.
Teaching young children about Memorial Day isn’t easy. Music is a gift, as it resonates all that teachers want to say, in a way that children can understand. Sing all those patriotic songs, not just on Memorial Day. And, read books that can illustrate those songs.