Children and Patriotism; It Starts With Singing.

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Teaching patriotism is something I do in my classroom, and I do it frequently.  It is rarely a planned activity; it just happens.  Much like teaching kindness or giving, or even bravery, the learning comes from doing.  And the way we learn about patriotism often begins with singing, especially if the song is also a book.

Yes, I sing books.  It’s the best way to learn a song because there are pictures to the words.  Pictures cement the meaning to the song, and children understand.  And, they sing with pride.  When I play the Autoharp to sing a patriotic song and have a fellow teacher (and Gloria) sing-along, children stand and place their hands on their hearts.  They love singing, and naturally gravitate to what a song feels like.  Children are far more tuned-in to feelings than adults.

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Today we sang “God Bless America”, “This Land is Your Land”, and “The Star Spangled Banner”, while we read the books.  Children belted out the words.  They stood tall with hands on their hearts because they were filled with pride.

Irving Berlin did not particularly like our National Anthem, and he wrote “God Bless America”.  Woody Guthrie did not like “God Bless America”, and he wrote “This Land is Your Land”.  Isn’t that interesting? I told this to the children today.  We took a tally vote of our favorite song, yet there was no clear winner.

When my son was eight, I bought him the book The Star Spangled Banner by Peter Spier.  Suddenly all the words to a song that he loved came to life.  Every time I read this book, something remarkable happens, because this book has full page illustrations that tell the story.  It is history for young children.  This is part of what I wrote to families a few years ago when children wanted to sing “The Star Spangled Banner”:

“It was one of the most exciting, intense, and passionate twenty minutes with children that a teacher can have.

Troy wanted to have a ‘show’, so he and Jill and Sam went to the top of the loft.  No, they did not want to sing “Proud To Be An American.”  They wanted to sing “The Star Spangled Banner”.  Of course it was wonderful and we all clapped.  Then I said, “Do you want to know what the song looks like and what really happened?”  I ran to get Peter Spier’s The Star Spangled Banner, but before I opened the book I said, “The guy who wrote this song was on a British ship, watching the battle.  He couldn’t get off the ship and it was night time.  The only way he knew if we were winning was if he saw the American flag.”

Suddenly I had every child pushing and eager to see the pictures and hear the whole story.  Oh, we went through the entire book.  It was perhaps the best lesson in history and patriotism for children.  I will post the full version of this remarkable story in a few days.

Today we learned how to properly shake hands, and how to say “Thank you” to a Veteran.  Thank goodness for patriotic songs that help children feel pride in America.  At the end of the day, long after we had been singing our hearts out, Kate kept singing while she was drawing.  Over and over she sang, “God bless America, land that I love.”  Just those words. The children standing nearby hummed and sang a few words along with her.  The more Kate sang, the more it felt like hearing the words to Goodnight Moon, a beloved story that I read-aloud every day: safe, loved, and strong.

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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10 Responses to Children and Patriotism; It Starts With Singing.

  1. Yu/stan/kema says:

    Excellent post. It is exciting to hear about your teaching.

  2. Such a wonderful experience for all of you. Love seeing the picture with everyone so engaged. It’s great the way you often let the children decide what’s next, such as Troy giving a show and Kate leading others in song. Thanks for sharing your amazing teaching process with the rest of us!

  3. “Yes, I sing books.”
    I’m not at all surprised…this is what sets you apart from the pack!

  4. Norah says:

    Lovely Jennie. What a wonderful way to make the sacrifice of the veterans meaningful to young children. Our freedom is worth fighting for. It’s sad that it has to be done, though.

  5. srbottch says:

    Terrific, Jennie. I think that ‘teaching patriotism’ is a lost art but your efforts to keep it relavant are commendable.

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