Patriotism. I have always felt pride in America. It was just part of my growing up, and that’s a good thing. My fifth grade teacher, Miss Pinson, taught us to sing all the patriotic songs. She sang with gusto, and we did too. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Thanking a veteran was a different story. When I was a child, the veterans were home from WWII and Korea. Most chose to resume their former lives, and few talked about the war. I don’t recall seeing a veteran in uniform.
I never had a chance to thank a veteran when I was a child.
Fast forward to my early years teaching preschool. I took my class to the Shrine Circus. That’s when things changed. Drastically.
I was as excited as the children were to go to the circus. Parents were, too. Everyone got settled in their seats. The lights went out and a huge American flag dropped down. Then, “The Star-Spangled Banner” began to play. I stood up and started to sing, like I always do. I looked around at the children. They were playing. I looked around at the parents. They were chatting.
I was shocked. These were my children and my parents. What were they thinking? How did they not know? I went into frantic mode, rushing to every child to place their hand over their heart and to take off their hat. I tried to remain calm, yet I’m sure I looked like a lunatic. I wanted to yell. What’s the matter with you? The National Anthem is playing! This was a wake-up call.
I knew I had to teach children about patriotism.
I started teaching with the American flag, since a big flag had been lowered at the circus and was fresh in children’s minds. Rick Smith, a Navy veteran and a parent in my class, came to school. He unfurled his American flag. That flag in a small space- my classroom- was gigantic. Children were awestruck. He told us about the stars and stripes, and the colors.
I’ll never forget how he showed the children to stand. It was standing tall, but it was so much more. When you feel proud, it shows. That’s what he taught the children.
Next came singing. Like Miss Pinson in fifth grade, I taught children patriotic songs. Sometimes we sang as I played the autoharp, and sometimes we sang as we read the book. Singing + children = joy.
On Veteran’s Day each year I began inviting soldiers into our classroom to share that joy of singing patriotic songs. We make a red, white, and blue cake for snack. We draw pictures and write a big thank you note. It is our way of saying Thank You. At long last, I, too, have an opportunity to properly thank a veteran.
From the circus, to Rick Smith and the American flag, to singing patriotic songs, and beyond- patriotism and thanking veterans has been part of my classroom. Children understand. They love that feeling of pride.