Whether you’re a parent wanting to teach your children to observe Memorial Day or a military family who wants to lead their children in remembering the life of a lost loved one, explaining Memorial Day to a child can be difficult. 

We know that teaching a heavy topic such as the loss of life can be especially challenging when communicating with children. We want to be sensitive to our wording without trivializing what the holiday means. It’s a delicate balance for an important subject to introduce to our families.

In this article, we will discuss some ways we can teach kids about the significance of Memorial Day. We want to invite our children to honor the lives of loved ones and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. We will propose some ideas for remembrance that we can participate in with our children.

What Is Memorial Day?

Before moving forward in our discussion of observing Memorial Day with our children, let’s refresh our knowledge of the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is a federal holiday that honors those who have died while serving in the U.S. military. It is a time of remembrance for laid members of the Armed Forces as well as a time to honor military families who have lost a loved one. This national holiday occurs on the last Monday of May.

Each year on Memorial Day, parades take place across the United States in cities like New York and Washington D.C. The National Moment of Remembrance also occurs at 3:00 p.m. local time for one minute to remember and reflect on those who have given their lives for our country’s freedom.

What Is the History of Memorial Day?

Memorial Day has been an observed federal holiday since 1971. Originally referred to as Decoration Day, Memorial Day began as a time to decorate fallen soldiers’ graves with flowers or flags. The first observed Decoration Day was on May 30, 1868. 

The leader of an organization for the Northern Civil War veterans, General John A. Logan, announced the need for a nationwide day of remembrance later that same month.

While Northern states continued to observe this holiday at the end of May, Southern states would celebrate fallen soldiers on separate days until after World War I. Originally, this holiday was meant to honor those who lost their lives serving in the Civil War. After World War I, however, Memorial Day became a day that encompassed fallen soldiers from all wars.

In 1968, Congress passed an act that made Memorial Day the last Monday of May. This was so that federal workers could have a three-day weekend for the observance of this holiday. This act also declared Memorial Day as a federal holiday. These changes were implemented in 1971, and we still celebrate and honor the lives of those who served in the Armed Forces on this date.

How Can We Explain Memorial Day to a Child?

When explaining Memorial Day to our children, it is important to convey this federal holiday as more than a long weekend or the start of summer.

If your family is not a military family or has not had a loved one pass while serving in the Armed Forces, Memorial Day can be a time for you and your children to write letters to military families or active service members expressing your support and gratitude.

Take time before participating in these various activities to explain to your children the significance of this holiday. You can even take time to read them a story about Memorial Day or watch a video together that discusses the history and significance of Memorial Day. 

There are countless children’s books written to teach kids about Memorial Day. Give time for your children to ask questions they might have after reading a story or watching a video.

Other activities such as crafts and scavenger hunts can draw kids into an active learning experience about Memorial Day. For example, coloring pages and printables can be used to teach kids about Memorial Day using language appropriate to their age group.

Families who have lost a loved one in service may find it particularly meaningful on this day to visit a veteran’s cemetery or war memorial. Take some time before going to explain to your children why you are visiting this particular memorial or cemetery and the importance of the sacrifice your loved one made.

Those who have lost a family member may also spend Memorial Day sharing stories with family and friends about their remarkable loved one. Bring your children into this time of remembrance in order that they may learn more about these incredible family members’ impacts and legacies.

Celebrating Memorial Day With Family

There are countless ways to celebrate Memorial Day with your children. Since students finish up school around Memorial Day, it is considered the unofficial start of summer. Federal workers also have a long weekend, providing three days of uninterrupted family celebration.

Go To a Parade

Attending a Memorial Day parade is a way to celebrate this holiday with family. Memorial Day parades remind Americans of the significance of Memorial Day and the true meaning of this holiday. Parade attendees can expect to see marching bands as well as active service members walking in the parade. It is a time of remembrance and respect for our nation’s heroes.

Visit a War Memorial

Visiting a war memorial or veteran’s cemetery is a somber yet significant way to observe Memorial Day. Taking a family trip to Arlington National Cemetery or various war memorials in D.C. such as the World War II Memorial, DC War Memorial, or Vietnam War Memorial is a way to pay tribute to those who have given their lives.

If you are visiting a veteran’s cemetery, consider bringing an American flag or flowers to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. Families may choose to wear red poppies when visiting war memorials or cemeteries. This is because red poppies were the flower that grew on the battlefields after World War I ended, thus coining them as the remembrance flower.

Have a Picnic or Barbecue

Picnics and barbecues are a popular tradition associated with Memorial Day. This is perhaps because Memorial Day has become the unofficial mark of the beginning of summer. This is a time when families can celebrate the freedom they have because of those who have served in the Armed Forces.

Create a Heartfelt Memorial

If your family lost an incredible loved one in service, Memorial Day is a wonderful time to create a thoughtful memorial. For loved ones who were buried in a cemetery, you can use this day to visit their gravesite and bring photos, mementos, and flowers to decorate their final resting place in honor of their unique memory. 

If your loved one was cremated, you may choose to scatter their ashes in a meaningful location or create a portable memorial, like a memorial diamond. Memorial diamonds are made using the carbon in your loved one’s ashes and can be set in jewelry as a wearable way to celebrate your loved one’s remarkable life. This jewelry can be passed down to your children in their adulthood and throughout generations to come.

In Conclusion

Memorial Day is a federal holiday that honors fallen soldiers that have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. It is a day of remembrance and its importance should be taught to our children and generations to come. 

We must work hard to carry on the true meaning of Memorial Day so that we never forget those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Celebrating as a family is a great way to teach kids about the importance of Memorial Day.


The Origins of Memorial Day | Department of Veteran’s Affairs 

Commemorating Memorial Day with Kids | Military

Remembrance - Why the Poppy? | BBC