Although many of us look forward to Memorial Day for the epic sales, backyard barbecues, and boozy summer cocktails, it’s important to remember what the holiday is truly about: honoring the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom. With just a bit of planning, it’s easy to include this meaning in your holiday schedule, and family members of all ages can have fun doing it.
Before you fire up the grill for your family’s afternoon BBQ, get everyone involved in these kid-friendly Memorial Day activities, ranging from a quick history lesson to a simple poppy craft, to remind young and old why we celebrate this Monday in May. And for more ways to honor the fallen, memorize these interesting Memorial Day facts.
1. Take a virtual tour of the White House.
You might not be able to travel to our nation’s capital this year, but you can still tour it. Head to Google Arts & Culture for a virtual tour of the historic home, complete with facts about its architecture and important events that took place in each room.
2. Listen to veterans’ stories.
Even if you don’t know a veteran personally (FWIW, you probably do), listen to a range of stories from active military members and veterans through Storycorps oral history. Or if you’d rather read your way through history, choose from top military memoirs like Band of Brothers, Guts ‘n Gunships, or The Things They Cannot Say.
3. Craft your own Memorial Day poppy.
Come Memorial Day, red poppies are worn as a sign of remembrance. In fact, the Friday before Memorial Day is considered National Poppy Day. While you can buy poppy pins at the store, you can also make your own with tissue paper by following this seriously simple step-by-step tutorial.
4. Donate to related causes.
If you’ve already filled your three-day weekend with kid-friendly activities, save extra time (and money!) to research trusted military organizations and nonprofits that need donations. Choose a cause that’s most relevant or important to you — wounded soldiers, grieving families, veterans with PTSD, and so on —and give what you can.
5. Brush up on American history.
If there was a time to do it, it’s now. Before diving into your family’s Memorial Day activities, teach your kids (and refresh your own memory!) about the reason we celebrate Memorial Day and how it differs from Veteran’s Day.
6. Write letters to soldiers and their families.
To your kids, Memorial Day is simply a day off from school. To remind them that this Monday in May is much more than that, have them write handwritten notes to active American soldiers and veterans. Once your letters are complete, bring them to one of these A Million Thanks drop-off locations to guarantee a safe, speedy arrival.
7. Clip coupons.
You know all of those coupons that come tucked inside your Sunday paper? Clip ’em — even if they’re expired —and mail them to a military base associated with the Overseas Coupon Program. Current soldiers can use coupons up to six months after their expiration date at military commissaries, allowing them to save money to support their families.
8. Put together care packages for soldiers.
Even though Operation Gratitude encourages people to get join their efforts year-round, they host several events during the Memorial Day weekend. There are many ways to get involved: Convince your kids to donate their Beanie Babies to kids in combat zones, sew special ties to keep troops cool during the hot summer months, or a host a neighborhood drive to collect toiletries for soldiers.
9. Create Patriotic Chalk Art
Get all the kids involved to create a patriotic-theme mural, or even just write out a simple thank you to our veterans, using side walk chalk.
10. Watch the Memorial Day Concert.
Each year, PBS hosts a star-studded concert on the Sunday before Memorial Day. This year’s concert, which airs on Sunday, May 24 at 8 p.m., features Trace Adkins, the National Symphony Orchestra, CeCe Winans, and more.
11. Fly a flag.
Show your love for America by hanging Old Glory in your front yard. But before you get ahead of yourself, make sure you’re following the proper etiquette and guidelines in the U.S. Flag Code established by Congress in 1942.
12. Take a moment of silence.
No matter where you live in the country, take a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time for The National Moment of Remembrance. For at least one minute, send your thanks, love, and prayers to active soldiers, veterans, and the many men and women who died serving our country.
13. Watch a patriotic movie.
If you’re still trying to wrap your head around the sacrifices that these brave men and women continue to make, consider watching an action-packed yet heartbreaking movie like Black Hawk Down or The Hurt Locker.
14. Donate flowers for soldiers’ graves.
Even if your schedule is jam-packed over the long weekend, you can still pay your respects to the fallen troops with a donation to Memorial Day Flowers, a national foundation that places a flower on the graves of soldiers. A small donation of $5, for example, honors five soldiers with a red rose in front of their headstone.
15. Deliver dessert to a local family.
If you’re planning to make a dessert for your family, make double. Because the sweetest way to show your thanks is to drop off a homemade treat — pie, cake, you name it — at the home of an active or fallen soldier.
16. Call a soldier’s spouse or parents.
For many, Memorial Day is a day full of emotion, heartbreak, and tears. With a simple phone call, you can offer your gratitude and well wishes to the loved ones of a soldier in your community.
17. DIY red, white, and blue decor.
We could all use a little more patriotism, especially on Memorial Day. Get your kids involved in these easy-to-DIY decorations, and then remember to hold onto them for your Fourth of July festivities.
18. Visit your local cemetery.
Just because you don’t live close to near the Arlington National Cemetery doesn’t mean you should nix the cemetery visit altogether. Volunteer to dress graves at a local or military cemetery with flowers and flags. Or simply swing by to pay your respects to our country’s heroes.
19. Post a heartfelt tribute on social media.
Whether you’re remembering a loved one or want to shed light on the importance of the holiday, post a tribute to our fallen heroes and then use one of these quotes for the perfect Instagram caption.