Helping Children Understand the Significance of Veterans Day

Veterans Day is just around the corner. The holiday is Sunday, November 11, and is being observed Monday, November 12. Educating the youngest members of your family about the history of Veterans Day and finding ways for them to honor veterans is important to help kids understand the significance of the holiday. Now is a great time to refresh your memory on the history of the holiday and start thinking about how you will recognize the warriors who have served our nation. 

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The History of Veterans Day

Veterans Day was first recognized as Armistice Day on November 11, 1919, marking the first anniversary of the end of World War I. In 1926, Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance and in 1938 Veterans Day became a national holiday. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

One lesser known fact is that the date Veterans Day is recognized has shifted throughout the years. In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Holidays bill, seeking to avoid mid-week government shutdowns that were a detriment to efficiency and allow, “Americans to enjoy more fully the country that is their magnificent heritage,” according to a statement from President Lyndon B. Johnson. When the bill passed, the observance of Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday in October. However in 1975, given the historical significance of the date, President Gerald Ford returned the observance to November 11.  

The Veteran Population

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016 there were 20.4 million U.S. veterans. Gulf-War era veterans (defined as those who served from 1990 to the present day) make up the largest share, totaling 7.1 million. The second largest group of veterans in the U.S. are those who served in the Vietnam-era, totaling 6.8 million. There are approximately 1.6 million veterans of the Korean War and around 771,000 World War II veterans. Of living veterans, 77 percent served during wartime and 23 percent served only during peacetime.

Ways to Help Your Kids Observe Veterans Day

While Veteran’s Day does touch on many concepts (war, death, sacrifice) that may be frightening to children, it is important to find ways to help youngsters understand the significance of honoring veterans. Consider one of these activities to mark the magnitude of the day in a way that will not scare children.

Talk about veterans you know personally.

In the weeks leading up to Veterans Day, begin a conversation with your children about people in your life and theirs that have served. If your service member has passed on, take the time to share a story about them and discuss which branch of the military they served in. If you have any photos from their time in the military, show these to your kids while discussing where your loved one was stationed. If you know current service members or living veterans, invite them over to share a meal on Veterans Day to give your kids a chance to ask questions and learn about why Veterans Day is important to those who have served.

Contact your local Veterans Affairs department branch.

Your local VA branch can help you identify local programs that your family can participate in to observe Veterans Day. Opportunities may include placing flags on graves at a local cemetery, visiting veterans in a nursing home or hospital, or volunteering at an event that serves veterans.

Encourage charitable giving.

Help your kids come up with a way to raise money such as a completing a few neighborhood chores or setting up a lemonade stand. Then identify an organization that serves veterans like Project Sanctuary that they can donate the proceeds to. 

Attend a ceremony or parade.

Many cities host Veterans Day parades and ceremonies. Bring the whole family out to take in the patriotic atmosphere at these events and use the opportunity to discuss why the day is observed with your children.