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.