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Why Independence Day matters

The United States won its independence from Great Britain a long time ago, and young people may wonder why Americans still celebrate on July 4.

Here are seven ways to teach kids what Independence Day is all about, from

 1. Tell them what happened on July 4, 1776. That was the day our country’s founders declared independence from Great Britain. To do this was extremely dangerous. Britain had one of the world’s strongest armies, and to go against the king was a crime punishable by death. But the king’s laws were unfair, so our founders decided it was worth the risk of war to win the freedom to govern themselves. In 1783, the new United States won that war, which we now call the Revolutionary War.

2. American flags are easy to spot. Explain that each part of the flag stands for something. The 50 stars stand for the 50 states. The 13 stripes stand for the 13 original colonies, which declared their independence on July 4, 1776. Tell the children that the flag is a symbol — a way to show the world what we stand for. It also shows that we are connected to one another — that we’re on the same team. And because the flag is special, we treat it with respect.

3. One thing that makes America special is that it guarantees us certain rights, or freedoms. Explain how you use these rights every day when you pray (or decide not to), read a newspaper, or meet and talk with friends. Tell kids that you can do these things because our country guarantees us the freedom to practice religion the way we want, say or write what we want, and go where we want.

4. Adults pay taxes to their local, state, and national government so that, among other things, the government can build and maintain facilities that reflect our values. Education is important to us, for example, so we build schools. Safety is a priority for us, so we put up traffic lights. And we want open places where we can gather, so we set aside space for parks.

5. Ask your grandchildren to imagine that they have been elected president of the U.S. Talk about what some of our presidents have done in difficult times; for instance, Abraham Lincoln helped lead a war to keep the country together, when some states wanted it to split in two.

6. Our country is like a family: Everyone has to pitch in or it doesn’t work. As citizens, we all have responsibilities, like going to school, voting, and obeying the law. Discuss how being a good citizen also means taking care of the country, by keeping it clean, looking out for people in trouble, and staying informed about the problems that we face. Find a project that is important to both you and the kids, such as helping out at a school or cleaning up a playground.

7. What does it mean to be American? In countries like China or Ireland, most residents share a common culture or ethnicity. But the United States is different. Here, what people share is a common idea — that people should have the freedom to live the way they want, and to work and earn money the best way they can. These freedoms have inspired people from all over the world to come to this country and become “Americans.”

The United States is a special place, with a unique history. Kids should know why we celebrate the nation’s “birthday” every Fourth of July.