As the sky darkens and the people gather, anticipating that patriotic show of lights, a small child wonders… He/she knows Christmas is about God, Thanksgiving is about the Pilgrims and turkey. But what exactly is the 4th of July all about? They don’t talk much about this in school because it happens during the summer months, so he’s curious. Don’t get me wrong, he loves the hot dogs and cotton candy, the red, white and blue decorations everywhere. Her favorite part about this day is getting to stay up late and watch the sky explode. He knows this has something to do with what her mother terms, “our country’s birthday.” Yet, he still wonders how a country can have a birthday. It can’t be born the way you and I were, so what’s up with all this?

If you’ve ever been faced with a small child’s curiosity and seeming ability to question just about everything, you might have or be getting ready to face some questions in the next day or two. Instead of giving the old song and dance about it being a day we celebrate our country and our victory over the British, why not do something different and give it a fresh spin? How about giving them a real-world experience.

Start by explaining what freedom is and how it makes our country special. Talk about the Constitution and how it guarantees us different freedoms. For example, we are free to have any religion we want, to worship in any way. Some countries dictate what religion their citizens are to have. We are also able to say anything we want, the freedom of speech. We also have the freedom to peacefully assemble and protest laws we think are unfair. Talk about how we use these rights every day, when we go to church or watch the news. Find a community activist program that agrees with your own personal beliefs and that is child-friendly. Both of you can get involved! Ask your kids what other freedoms they think they might have that other people do not.

Next, take your child on a tour of the local government in your area this summer. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a small or large town, there is a governing system. See if your local courthouse offers guided tours or just do the research on your own and make a day of taking your child to see where and how our laws are enforced. It is a fascinating process to actually witness the inner workings of our justice system for both kids and adults.July 4th

Finally, talk with your child about citizenship, what we receive and what we do in return. Tell them how our government protects us as its citizens and that we therefore have certain duties. We do things like go to school, vote, and obey the law as part of these duties. Let all this be a part of a special project that you and your child can do together to give back to your community, such as helping clean up a local school or park.

Remember, July 4th is not just another holiday; its significance is far-reaching, even global. How we talk to our kids about this country can directly influence the leaders of tomorrow. Even though the fireworks are always inspiring and the colors of our flag are a steadfast part of our culture, this holiday is about so much more! As citizens, it is part of our duty to educate children on these freedoms and ideals so that they grow up to respect the battles our country has fought. The children really are our future so let’s equip them with the knowledge they need in order to guide us through any battles, whether foreign or domestic, still yet to come.