Memorial Day is much more than a fun-filled three-day weekend celebrating the beginning of summer. That’s why it’s a great opportunity for us to take our American history lesson plans and kick them up a notch with a few meaningful Memorial Day activities.
Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. For all Americans, Memorial Day is an opportunity to honor the men and women who gave their lives in service of our country. So, to help your students reflect on and understand this important holiday, we’ve gathered 21 of our favorite activities. From books and videos to research sites and creative activities, here are Memorial Day activities for kids of all ages.
1. Read books about Memorial Day
Read-alouds are perfect for Memorial Day activities. Honor the brave men and women who gave their lives for our country with these thoughtful and engaging books for your classroom. From facts and history to time-honored customs, your students will learn all about this important day.
2. Learn the facts with these videos
3. Listen to and sing patriotic songs
4. Invite a veteran to speak to your class
Sure, you can teach your students about Memorial Day from a textbook. But listening to a person who actually defended our country in a war can be much more compelling. Ask around to see if you can find a parent, grandparent, neighbor, or church member who is a veteran who is willing to come share their experiences with your students.
5. Do a “quick write” about Memorial Day
Looking for Memorial Day writing activities? Try a quick write, which is a brief written response to a question or prompt. To stay within the 10-minute time frame, have students listen to the prompt, think for 1 minute, and then write for 3 minutes.
Here are a few Memorial Day prompts from Lit in Focus:
- What is one way you can honor those who gave their life fighting for our nation?
- Is Memorial Day an important holiday? Why or why not?
- Explain the meaning of Memorial Day. Include the following words in your explanation: remember, thankful, died, war, freedom, honor.
6. Make poppies to commemorate Memorial Day
7. Share Memorial Day facts
Take a few minutes to pause and share these interesting Memorial Day facts with your students before they head home for the long weekend.
8. Explore the five themes of good citizenship
Memorial Day is the perfect time to instill a sense of civic responsibility in your students. Check out this lesson that explores the five themes of good citizenship—honesty, compassion, respect, responsibility, and courage. Exploring these themes, talking about them, and making connections between them and your students’ lives are the keys to developing a true understanding of these important concepts.
9. Take a virtual tour of Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery, the most famous cemetery in the United States, is the final resting place for many of our nation’s greatest heroes. More than 400,000 veterans of every American conflict, from the Revolutionary War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are buried here. Take this informative virtual tour with one of the park’s tour guides.
10. Go on an internet treasure hunt
Memorial Day teaches us the importance of remembering the men and women who died fighting for our country. Deepen your students’ understanding with this interactive lesson, which challenges them to use various Web resources to learn more about the history of Memorial Day.
11. Read Memorial Day poems
Perhaps you’ve heard of John McCrae’s famous poem In Flanders Fields, a poem written in the voice of a group of soldiers who died in a World War I battle. By speaking as a group and asking the reader to join in their struggle, these speakers suggest that war is a shared responsibility that affects everyone. Listen to Leonard Cohen’s masterful recitation, then find more poems in this collection of Memorial Day poems.
12. Create a Wall of Peace
In this impactful lesson, students will respond to a writing prompt about Memorial Day. Have them turn in their paragraphs on white writing paper, then attach each response to one of these brick-printed scrapbook papers. Then, have students read their paragraph aloud, one at a time, and arrange their “bricks” on the bulletin board, creating a Wall of Peace. Leave space between bricks to represent the mortar (all of us) that holds them together.
13. Write letters to members of the military
What better way to celebrate Memorial Day than to show our gratitude? Rally your students to send messages of appreciation and support for our military (active duty, reserve, and veterans) who are serving at home, abroad, or are recovering in hospitals. A Million Thanks is a nonprofit dedicated to connecting servicepeople with people back home. To date, the organization has distributed more than 7 million letters to U.S. troops stationed around the world.
14. Dive into stories from the Veterans History Project
Using this lesson plan from Read Write Think, students will explore the amazing Veterans History Project collection. Activities include creating a timeline of a veteran’s life, writing an illustrated children’s book about a veteran, recording a podcast, and more.
15. Compare and contrast Veterans Day and Memorial Day
Include this compare-contrast activity from Lit in Focus for upper elementary and middle school students in your Memorial Day curriculum. The lesson includes directions as well as free printable and digital materials to complete the activity.
16. Take a D-Day journey
Inspire your students with tales of bravery. Check out this fascinating site from the Library of Congress that features several Memorial Day activities, including one about the personal geographies of D-Day veterans 75 years later. On the main page, you’ll find an interactive story map featuring four World War II vets.
17. Host a shoebox parade
In many towns across America, Memorial Day is commemorated with a parade. In this lesson, students will work independently or in small groups to create a timeline of U.S. conflict, then make “shoebox floats” like the one above to represent and commemorate soldiers throughout history.
18. Show your spirit with red, white, and blue windsocks
Memorial Day is a pretty heavy subject for our youngest learners. Teach them that it is a day to honor all of the men and women who work hard to keep our great nation safe. Then, try this fun and easy craft so they can show their patriotic pride.
19. Learn about our capital’s war memorials
Most of us have heard of Iwo Jima and the Vietnam War Memorial, but did you know the Washington, D.C., area is home to 17 monuments, museums, and memorials? Learn more about all of the organizations dedicated to honoring U.S. veterans and service members in and around the nation’s capital.
20. Witness the Wall of Faces
Watch the short background video above about the history of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Then, visit the virtual Wall of Faces, a site dedicated to honoring and remembering every person whose name is inscribed on the wall by putting a face with each name.
21. Design a Revolutionary War memorial
There are many memorials in our nation’s capital that honor presidents and the veterans of wars (see #19, above). But did you know that there is not yet a memorial to honor the soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War? In this engaging lesson, students will brainstorm ideas and create a mock-up of their own version of a memorial dedicated to these brave soldiers.