Teaching Patriotism Begins With Singing

Today is Armed Forces Day.

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.

We sing “God Bless America”, “This Land is Your Land”, “Red White and Blue”, and “The Star-Spangled Banner”, while we read the books.  Children belt out the words.  They stand tall with hands on their hearts because they are filled with pride.

Is there a part of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that gives you a lump in your throat?  When I sing, “…gave proof through the night”, that does it for me.  We all hold dear parts of songs that empower us.  Patriotic songs seem to do that ten-fold.

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.  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.

We learned how to properly shake hands, and how to say “Thank you” to a member of our armed forces.  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.


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.
This entry was posted in American flag, children's books, Early Education, Giving thanks, history, military, music, patriotism, picture books, Singing, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

62 Responses to Teaching Patriotism Begins With Singing

  1. Bernadette says:

    I loved this post and how you instill patriotism in those little guys. I had to laugh at KATE singing God Bless America over and over. That song in the Philadelphia area is so well loved and the KATE Smith recording of it is played at every Flyers Hockey game.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Bernadette. Yes, it is funny how “both” Kate’s sang God Bless America. I remember listening to that, back in the days when we lived in PA and watched the Flyers.

  2. Another lovely post, Jennie. Those children are so lucky to have you.
    I remember learning “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “This Land Is Your Land” in school when I was little, and I agree with you completely. Hugs!

    • Jennie says:

      I bet you still enjoy hearing those songs. My 5th grade teacher was the one who sang all the songs. It ‘sticks’ when you’re a child. Thank you so much, Teagan. 😍

  3. Ritu says:

    This is so lovely Jennie!
    They never sin the National Anthem in our school, yet I remember we all did with pride growing up!

  4. Beautiful post, Jennie! You’re a fantastic teacher, and your students are so lucky to learn in such a nurturing environment. 🙂

  5. GP Cox says:

    What a fantastic story, Jennie! You make me so proud to know you.

  6. reocochran says:

    Lovely way to help picture what the words of our patriotic songs stand for, Jennie. The students now only will pass this love of our country to their parents and siblings, but another generation, their very own children will be proud Americans. Simply beautiful and magical post, Jennie. 🇺🇸
    Today (or this weekend) is a special day in Canada, too. 🇨🇦

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Robin! I truly believe that combining pictures to the songs makes all the difference. I’m a visual learner. I do hope the love of these songs and patriotism will stick (as it did with me, thanks to my fifth grade teacher, Miss Pinson). Proud to be an American! 🙂🇺🇸

      • reocochran says:

        Those books have outstanding illustrations and photographs​, Jennie. It is hard to truly describe some of the intrinsic meanings of the flag, Liberty Bell and other symbols which pictures bring to life. President George Washington crossing the Potomac will always be a “full blown painting” in my mind. . .

      • Jennie says:

        Yes! That George Washington painting is the same painting in my mind, too. So imagine the same sort of thing with those pictures illustrating the words to patriotic songs. As you say, it brings all the important parts to life.

      • reocochran says:

        Oh, that is wonderful, Jennie! I do think certain “scenes” or “pictures” are iconic, especially for those in the same age period. . . Books have certainly impact on our choices, also television! I’m sure Kellogg’s Fruit Loops using a toucan for a logo helps many who picture them. 😊

      • Jennie says:

        Absolutely, Robin! A picture is worth a thousand words. 🙂

      • reocochran says:

        Yes, I am more than a dozen days behind! Thank you for worrying about losing touch.
        I definitely fall behind now that the 4 ten hour days switched into a 5 ten hour days schedule.

      • Jennie says:

        I have thought about your new and difficult schedule, Robin. I hate not being able to keep up, and that happens too often with me and school. How are you??

      • reocochran says:

        Yay, for dear Miss Pinson! ❤️ 🇺🇸

      • Jennie says:

        Yes! 😀👏

  7. reocochran says:

    now means “not” 🙂

  8. Dan Antion says:

    I still remember singing those songs in elementary school. America the Beautiful gets to me.

  9. “That our flag is still there,” gets me. I think if all the brave people who gave their lives so we can take pride in America were to look down upon your efforts, they would think to themselves, “it was well worth it.” God bless you, Jennie.

    • Jennie says:

      Your lump-in-your-throat words finish mine and complete the sentence in the song. Together, that is one powerful line in the song. I think about those brave people looking down, too. Yes, I believe they think it was worth it. We have a Memory Garden at school. Memorial Day we have a soldier or sailor plant flags in the garden. As the year goes on I often look at those little flags, sometimes covered in snow, and think about how they look down. God bless you, John.

  10. It is wonderful that Americans take so much pride in their homeland. I do not believe that is the case here in South Africa, unfortunately.

  11. beetleypete says:

    This is something very American that does not happen in Britain. (Though might be usual in other countries) We had a school hymn, which was sung at assembly every morning. It was ‘To Be A Pilgrim’, which linked in with our school badge of a design from Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, and our school motto, “He Who Conquers Himself, Conquers All”.

    When I watched American films as a child, I was fascinated to see children pledging allegiance to the flag, and singing patriotic songs. But our national anthem, ‘God Save The Queen’ was always played when the TV closed down back then, and at the end of films at the cinema too..
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      It sounds like you had a pretty good share of patriotic songs, even though many were for your school. I am trying to remember what was played on TV when it shut down at night. It may have been the National Anthem, too. I have always wondered, when the Queen steps down, will the words change to ‘God Save the King?’ Best to you, Pete.

  12. Pingback: Teaching Patriotism Begins With Singing — A Teacher’s Reflections – Vietnam Travel & Trade Portal

  13. Norah says:

    So beautiful, Jennie. Singing is certainly a great way of rousing emotions. It is great to have books that can be sung.

  14. srbottch says:

    Jennie, the entire country should read this Excuse it’s what should be done and it’s not being done enough. Every Memorial Day at Woodland Steve School in Worcester, we gathered in the schoolyard to sing all the patriotic and military songs. I still sing them today. >

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Steve! Like you, I feel this is what schools should be teaching children. I am so glad to hear about what you did at school in Worcester. I even remember other verses to The Star-Spangled Banner! I will have the children gather at our Memory Garden this week for a Memorial Day Remembrance. Stay tuned! 🇺🇸

      • srbottch says:

        Write the President and let him know what you do to get students to understand patriotism. Lessons like yours are sorely needed. Keep up the great work, Jennie!

      • Jennie says:

        Not a bad idea… I will do that, Steve.

      • srbottch says:

        I would nit be surprised if you get an answer…and your kids would be thrilled when you read it. 😊👍

      • Jennie says:

        We got a reply from the Queen of England. We might from the President. Yes, the kids would be thrilled! I’m on it. I think I’ll send this post, and the one I just posted, and maybe one or two more. I’ll let you know when I send the letter. Thanks, Steve.

      • srbottch says:

        Jennie, I was so enthused to reply to your post that I failed to spell/word check my comments. Pardon the errors but it does make it more challenging for you to decipher what I’m saying. 😂

      • Jennie says:

        I love it! After all, I’m a teacher…

  15. This was so wonderful to read, Jennie. I get a lump in my throat with these songs and so glad you are teaching them to children so they understand it.

  16. dgkaye says:

    Amazing how much music can make a huge impact even on kids. And I’m not even American and I can’t count how many times I choke up when I hear the Star Spangled Banner watching sports. 🙂

  17. susanwileyauthorillustratoryoungchildren says:

    Teaching patriotism and our American history is so important. Too much of history is no longer taught to make room for other topics. Remembering words to songs helps to remember the history behind them. Thank you! (p.s. did the book I sent arrive?)

    • Jennie says:

      You are absolutely right, Susan. So glad you enjoyed this. Yes, your book arrived last week. So cute! I only get to our post office once a week, so it may have been there a little while. Apologies that I have not yet replied to thank you. End of school year has me swamped. 🙂

  18. SusanWileyAuthorIllustrator says:

    Have a great end of the year and graduation. :))

  19. Love seeing the children so involved in their singing!

  20. lbeth1950 says:

    You students are lucky to have you,

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