The Real Start of Teaching the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July – America’s declaration of independence.  I teach children about the American flag, and patriotism.  It’s important.  Best of all, children often lead the way.  Their interests are the springboard for the best learning.

The Fourth of July is far more than the Boston Pops concert, fireworks, and a barbeque.  It’s remembering our freedom, and how we got there.

Here is a post on what happened at school.  It is celebrating America.  This is the real start to teaching children about the Fourth of July.


And to my surprise, the children have driven the making of yet another quilt.

Over the past ten years, my preschool class has designed quilts.  Each one materialized because of something the children were passionate about.  When they couldn’t get enough of a song or an idea, I knew I had to give them more.  Together we designed quilts.  The process brought everything to life for children, from planning, to sketching, to designing, to picking fabrics.  They did it all, and a wonderful master quilter made their dream come alive.  The quilts are stunning.  Well, that is an understatement; one hangs at the National Liberty Museum in historic Philadelphia, one hangs at the Boston Fisher House, and one hangs at the State House in Boston.  Humbling.  Each quilt was a year-long project, starting with the children and what they loved.

And now it has happened again.  All it takes is a spark.

In the fall, children loved singing “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.  I sing with children all the time, and I sing many kinds of songs.  For whatever reason, they wanted to sing “This Land is Your Land” over and over again.  I’m talking at least two to three times a day.

The book to this song is on our bookshelf.

It’s an outstanding book.  The illustrations bring the song to life.  There are also many illustrations along the edges that give a wonderful visual of America’s landmarks, big and small.  We play “I Spy” with this book all the time.  The biggest challenge is finding thirty flying American flags.  Thirty!  Some are obvious, many are not.  Finding the flags means we have to stop when we find one, like a flag on the Delta Queen, or one on on the Esplanade in Boston – home of the Boston Pops Fourth of July concert, or a flag on Ellis Island.

Geography + history + patriotism at its best.

Most importantly, the children grab the book every time they want to sing the song.  It is the song, their song.  And as they sing, they want the book in their hands.

I welcomed a new friend, Travis, who plays the guitar.  The children love his songs, especially “It’s You I Like”, by Mister Rogers.  Travis started coming to sing on a regular basis.  Interestingly, as soon as he sat down, Eddie or Emmett or Boden would rush over to the book shelf, grab This Land is Your Land, and shove it into Travis’ hands.  They had to have that song – first.

And occasionally I would join in.

By winter, I had ‘lost control’ over the song and the book.  Children ruled the roost, getting the book and singing all the time.  Did you know there is a verse, a page, that is pretty dismal?  No happy America.  Children call it the ‘sad page’, and we sing it in a quiet and slow way, because it is sad.

“In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people;
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?”

Children love this verse.  “Jennie, can you sing the sad page?”  Pretty powerful stuff.  I have to be true to the song, so I sing that verse.  I think we underestimate children’s ability to understand and feel compassion.  The illustrations on ‘the sad page’ are bleak… and then the next page and verse is the same scene, with everything fixed and repaired, and people working together to build a new playground.  I flip back and forth between the two pages to help children find all the changes.  That next verse is the final verse of the song.  It’s the one that gets me a little choked up.  It’s the one where children stand tall and proud.

“Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back;
This land was made for you and me.”

Sometimes children would come to me in the middle of activity time and ask me to sing with them.

Other times they would sing collectively on their own.  No teacher was needed, or for that matter even wanted.  It was wonderful.

And then one morning, something happened.  Something big happened.  Stayed tuned for Part 2.


P.S.  For new bloggers, this was the start of creating a remarkable quilt.  My class designed many, and Milly the Quilter worked her magic to make children’s ideas come alive.  They hang at a national museum in Philadelphia, a Fisher House, and the Boston State House.  A quilt was invited to the Intrepid Museum in NYC.  That was amazing!

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 America, American flag, Early Education, geography, Giving thanks, history, Inspiration, music, patriotism, picture books, preschool, quilting, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

72 Responses to The Real Start of Teaching the Fourth of July

  1. Ritu says:

    Always love this story 🥰

  2. GP says:

    Wish I had had you as a teacher!!

  3. beetleypete says:

    I loved the story of Milly and the quilt. You are all so patriotic over there, something we no longer appear to feel in England.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      I remember how you and Geoff explained why, and it makes sense, albeit sad. I haven’t posted Milly stories in years. She was a treasure. Do you think if I reposted her story over the summer (I think there were 10 episodes, in 2018), that followers would enjoy it? I have many new followers, but I don’t want to bore my longtime followers, like you. Please be honest. I miss Milly!

  4. Dan Antion says:

    I love reading about their enthusiasm for learning about the birth and growth of our country, including the struggles. It’s wonderful that you guide them through all of that, Jennie.

  5. srbottch says:

    Starting young…PERFECT! P.I.D, Patriots In Development! Way to do it, Jennie.

  6. beth says:

    what a lovely way to teach this

  7. quiall says:

    Too often we dismiss children as being too young and not understanding and yet I think they understand far more than we know. They are not jaded, they still believe that love can conquer all, they know it can.

  8. K.L. Hale says:

    Jennie, this post brought tears to my eyes. History, love, music, crafts,…hearing Travis sing with the kids. When the world seems chaotic I just want to sit in your room. The sad verse teaches so much! Look at the excitement and motivation…and truth! I want to group hug all of you. And what an honor for the quilt to be displayed. 🇺🇸❤️🙏🏻🤗🇺🇸

  9. What a great post Jennie, I can’t wait for part 2!

  10. This is beautiful, Jennie! You’re doing a good thing here.

  11. What a lovely celebration of our country with your students, Jennie. Woot!

  12. Those videos gave me goosebumps, Jennie! They’re wonderful. Happy Independence Day!!

  13. Don Ostertag says:

    What a great way to start the children off in life. Woody Guthrie. Mr. Rogers. Back in the one-room schoolhouse we sang Steven Foster songs like Old Black Joe.

    • Jennie says:

      I love and dearly remember those songs! I teach children Mr. Rogers songs, too. “It’s you I like.” They hit the soul. Honestly, the children are drawn to certain songs. When that happens, I have to do something more, right? Thank you, Don.

  14. Darlene says:

    I love this story so much. What a great start for the students in your charge.

  15. What a great start for the kids, Jennie. You are a wonder.

  16. Wonderful, Jennie! I too used this awesome book in grades 4-8… LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT! ❤ xoxoxo

  17. Reblogged this on Bette A. Stevens, Maine Author and commented:
    This is Our Land! Jennie and her students show us how to Celebrate America in style… 💞 Bette A. Stevens

  18. vrolikenote says:

    A true inspiration.

  19. petespringerauthor says:

    Watching those engaged faces was a pleasure. Looking forward to part 2.

    • Jennie says:

      You’re the second blogger who wants to read Part 2, so stay tuned. 🙂

      This particular post happened much later in the journey of songs and quilting. I plan to go ‘back to the beginning’ and re-post the whole shebang, over the summer. I don’t think you have read them. I’m pretty choked up thinking of them.

  20. Norah says:

    This is a lovely story. Milly and her quilts are amazing.

  21. The story is always again amazing, Jennie! Thank you for remembering, and celebrate a wonderful 4th of July! 🙂 xx Michael

  22. -Eugenia says:

    What a beautiful story!💖

  23. marianbeaman says:

    This is all lovely, Jennie. What an inspiration for other teachers. One phrase I latched on to: “Best of all, children often lead the way.” Thank you for sharing the wonder. 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Marian! Sharing wonder and inspiration from my classroom is like sharing buried treasure. Stay tuned for the rest of the story. Following that, I will go back to the beginning of how this all started. 🙂

  24. The children are so adorable, Jennie. How wonderfully well they sing.

  25. dgkaye says:

    What a beautiful story Jennie. Sweet child asking you to sing ‘the sad part’. ❤

  26. What a wonxerful post!

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