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How to teach July 4 facts and history to kids of all ages

It's not just about barbecues. Here's how to teach kids what Independence Day really means.

America traditionally celebrates its birthday with flags, fireworks, parades and barbecues. How are kids going to learn the real meaning behind Independence Day?

Lots of ways. Try some of these:

Celebrate America's birthday

For younger children, describe July Fourth as the nation's birthday, said Mary Eames Ucci, education director of the Wellesley College Child Study Center. Tell them the parade, fireworks and hot dogs are for the celebration.

"As children get older, they can begin to understand what independence means," she said. "When you become independent, you get a lot of freedom but you also get a lot of responsibility."

Make it an annual ritual for kids spend a few minutes thinking about and then discussing the contributions they want to make to their country — and to the world, said Debra Condren, a psychologist and mom.

"Help them come up with age-appropriate ideas for short-term, intermediate and long-term ways they can give back," she said.

Visit a historical site

If you live on the Eastern Seaboard, you probably have a Revolutionary War battlefield nearby, said Brandon Marie Miller, author of "George Washington for Kids." Look one up here.

For families who aren't close to a historical site (or whose nearby sites are closed), she suggests online trips. Try the virtual tour at the web site of Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania. It's where the Continental Army set up camp. The site has podcasts for kids ages 8 to 12 covering the significance of 10 locations in the park, along with lessons and activities spanning other aspects of the American Revolution.

George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens has a virtual tour of the first president's home, memory games to learn about the archaeology of the estate and jigsaw puzzles that include a portrait of Washington.

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Read all about it

There are many wonderful children's books about the Fourth of July, said Amy McClure, professor of children's literature at Ohio Wesleyan University.

She recommends "The Story of America's Birthday" by Patricia A. Pringy for babies to preschoolers, and "O, Say Can You See? America's Symbols, Landmarks, And Important Words" by Sheila Keenan for kids ages 4 to 8.

"Any opportunity parents can have to engage children in reading over the summer can only benefit children," McClure said. "You can make reading relevant and connect it to an exciting event in their lives."

Turn kids into patriots

Tell kids they can have a weeklong party with something special happening every day, said Jen Singer of, an online community for moms. Let them plan each day's events, allowing them to get excited about the party.

But then impose rules, such as they can only eat carrots — no ice cream — and they can only play inside. When they get upset about the rules, explain that's how the patriots felt when England made rules and imposed taxes on Americans.

Use books and videos to explain the Revolution and Independence Day. Then let them have their party and ice cream.

Do an activity together

Make a quill pen by shaping a point at the end of a feather and dipping it into a bottle of ink, Miller said. It will give kids an idea of what the Declaration of Independence was written with — and kids like the scratching noise, she said.

They can also make hasty pudding, which was a staple in the 18th century and mentioned in the song "Yankee Doodle." Other activities include designing a recruiting poster for Washington's army or learning to dance a minuet, an 18th-century dance.

Let your child send e-cards to family members passing along a fact about July Fourth. Have them start a journal of what they do for the holiday each year, said James Heintze, a librarian emeritus at American University.

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This story was first published in 2013 and has been updated.