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The history of Veterans Day and how to celebrate with kids

Here are some creative ways to honor those who have served our country.
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/ Source: TODAY

For kids, Veterans Day may be a confusing day they do not fully understand, or maybe it's associated solely with getting a day off school.

For military families, Veterans Day marks an opportunity to thank the people they love most.

"My kids are fortunate to have a father who has served in the Navy their entire lives,” Laura Maxwell told TODAY Parents. "On Veterans Day, we take time out to highlight what it means to live a life of sacrifice — how all the moves, all the goodbyes, all the new schools, moving trucks, and crazy schedules aren’t for nothing. They matter to our country."

How can parents help kids honor our veterans? A good start is to educate them on the history of Veterans Day and why we celebrate, followed by some easy activities.

Remember why we celebrate Veterans Day

Each year, Veterans Day is observed on Nov. 11, regardless of the day of the week. Why Nov. 11? It’s the day that signifies the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when World War I ended.

The holiday was originally called Armistice Day and was observed for the first time on Nov. 11, 1919 — the first anniversary of the end of World War I. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day — a day to honor American veterans of all wars for their patriotism and willingness to serve and sacrifice.

Thank a veteran together

“A great way for parents and kids to say thank you to our veterans is by creating a card, letter or poster," says Kitty Harris, a Navy veteran and mom from San Diego, California. "Art is a fun way for children to express themselves and show their appreciation for our veteran communities while social distancing.”

Maddie Clegg, 6, is the daughter of Air Force Lt. Col. Nathaniel Clegg, and wanted to help celebrate veterans like her dad.

“She drew a soldier in a flight suit with a hat and an American flag, because that’s how she sees the military every day at home,” Maxine Clegg, Maddie’s mom shared with TODAY Parents.

Make a call or plan a virtual celebration

Celebrating the day can be as simple as calling a veteran to have a meaningful conversation about their story serving our country. If you don’t have a family member who’s a veteran, ask friends and others in your network if they know a veteran.

Because virtual meetings grew in popularity during the pandemic, organizing a Zoom call honoring family military members can be an easy activity. Everyone on the call could wear military tees or the colors of their favorite branch of the military and share service photos and stories of the veterans in your life.

Decorate your house and yard

Looking to keep the celebrations at home? Parents can have kids paint rocks red, white, and blue with messages of gratitude to place in a garden or create homemade posters to place in the windows or on the front door. Harris suggests that kids decorate the sidewalk with colorful chalk to create a special “Thank You” that honors veterans. Pinterest is full of craft ideas, from homemade handprint American flags and patriotic wind socks to wreaths and fans.

Watch veterans share their oral histories

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City has a unique Oral History Project, which collects first-hand stories of those who served on board the Intrepid, the submarine Growler, and more.

Susan Marenoff-Zausner, president of the museum, says watching the stories is a great way for families to get a real feel for what military life is like. "Watching these interviews, which vividly depict triumphs and even lighthearted moments from times of service, can encourage meaningful conversations and a deeper understanding of why it’s so important to recognize our brave service men and women,” Marenoff-Zausner said.

Take a virtual tour of war memorials

This virtual tour includes stops and information about numerous war memorials, including the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, and the United States Marine Corps War Memorial.

Watch a wreath-laying ceremony

Every Veterans Day, memorials across the country — including Arlington National Cemetery — hold wreath laying ceremonies. Be sure to check the individual websites of your local memorials and Arlington National Cemetery for information on possible virtual commemorations of Veterans Day.

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