“Live free or die!” “No taxation without representation!” Heady slogans, but the abstract principles American colonists fought for can be hard for children to understand. Here are some projects to illustrate the rights our revolutionary forefathers went to war to win.
Write a Colonial Newspaper
The hated Stamp Act of 1765 forced colonists to pay taxes on all printed material, which had to be stamped by a British official. Now, of course, Americans are free to document and distribute their opinions widely – a freedom no one should take for granted. All you need to create your own 1700’s style document is white paper, a 9x13 baking pan filled with strong, cool black tea, and a feather and ink.
- Crumple the paper a few times, smooth it out, and immerse it completely in the tea.
- Remove it and set it somewhere to dry.
- Meanwhile, use a scissors to make a cut the end of the feather into a point. Make a slit in the quill with one vertical snip. Line the table and floor with waterproof plastic before opening the ink.
- When the paper is completely dry, it should look tan and aged like old parchment. Use the quill pen to write the day’s news. Remember to let it dry completely or blot it with a tissue before handling it.
Play a Game of Jack Straw
Colonial children played a precursor to pick-up-sticks using the straw that would have been everywhere in colonial America. You can do the same using straws pulled from a broom.
- Pull a handful of long straws and trim any frayed ends. Reserve a spare for each player to use as the picker.
- Gather a handful standing vertically with one end on the floor or table. Let go suddenly so they fall in a heap.
- Each player takes turns trying to lift and remove individual straws with the picker without disturbing the other straws in the pile. If the others move, the straw goes back on the pile. Whoever has the most straws at the end wins!
When the war ended, King George III predicted that George Washington would soon become a dictator. Instead, he stepped down after two terms in office, preserving the ideal of a republic where leaders were voted into office. Children, hostages to fortune, understand the beauty of democracy. Although they won’t get a real vote for a few years, you can use a shoebox and art supplies to establish your own mini-democracy.
- Cut a slit in the top of a clean, empty box and use packing tape to seal the box shut.
- Pick an issue, and pick it carefully. You have to be willing to honor the results of the vote, so what to have for dessert is probably a wiser choice than where to go for vacation.
- Cut out paper ballots and supply each voter with identical ballots and crayons. Pick a symbol that everyone can make, such as a dot for yes and an X for no.
- Anonymity allows people to vote honestly without fear of repercussion. Tell everyone to fill out the ballot privately, then drop the folded ballot in the ballot box.
- Count the votes, and make sure to honor the outcome.
Of course, no family is a democracy, and the last thing a parent wants is a revolution on her hands. But if you want to raise civic-minded children who value the rights and principles this country was founded on, studying the Revolution is a great place to start.