Tired of celebrating holidays with your kids and focusing more on fun and less on the history behind the festivities? Try building learning opportunities through conversations this July 4th. Parents know that July 4th is more than waving flags and watching fireworks, but oftentimes kids miss out on the relevance of the holiday, and lose an important opportunity to think about what freedom actually means.

Corinna Jenkins Tucker, Associate Professor of Family Studies at the University of New Hampshire, says it’s important for parents to talk to their children about the history of Independence Day and other holidays. “A parent can serve as an approachable resource and facilitate ‘teachable moments’ across childhood and adolescence,” she says.

Many parents are intimidated by the thought of taking on the role of teacher. But Jenkins Tucker says that when parents “teach,” it doesn’t need to be a formal affair. “Parents can provide a supportive learning environment that includes informal learning opportunities,” she says. Simply engaging children in a discussion about July 4th can be enough to encourage their understanding of the holiday.

Stacy DeBroff, bestselling author and founder and president of Mom Central, agrees that many parents forget to use celebrations as discussion points for why these events are important enough to take a break from our normal activities. “We treat these holidays as long weekends,” she says. “But we forget that we can help our children understand why we’re celebrating.”

Projects centered on the American flag offer terrific opportunities for parents to discuss the history of July 4th. Discussion about the red, white, and blue colors and what they symbolize can help children understand that this long weekend is about more than having a pool party with family and friends.

Here are a few discussion starters for engaging children in an informal conversation about July 4th. You can casually ask these questions while you work with the kids on any July 4th family project, whether you’re decorating an American flag cake or making your own flags. Or, you can start a conversation on the drive to watch fireworks or attend a friend’s barbeque. Preplanned projects are not a requirement for learning; the key is to engage children in a conversation.

  • What do you think we are celebrating when we celebrate July 4th?
  • Why do you think we call the holiday Independence Day?
  • What does it mean to be independent?
  • What is the opposite of independence?

Talk about the Declaration of Independence and what it meant for the British colonists: to have freedom and to belong to an independent country.

  • What else can you tell me about why we celebrate on July 4th?
  • What can you tell me about the American flag?
  • What colors do you see on the flag?
  • How many stripes do you see?
  • How many stars do you see?

Talk about what the colors symbolize. White stripes represent the original thirteen colonies; white signifies purity and innocence; red represents the blood shed in war; blue stands for perseverance.

  • What does freedom mean?
  • What do you know about freedom?
  • What is the opposite of freedom?
  • What are some ways that you have freedom?

Introduce the concept that freedom comes with responsibility.

For more formal learning, ask your local librarian for an age-appropriate book about Independence Day. Before reading, take a few minutes to preview the book with your children. Look at the pictures and ask questions about what they see in the pictures and what they think the book will be about.

As you read the book, take time to pause during reading to ask or answer questions. Young children will likely have questions about some of the words and phrases in the book (e.g. taxes, Boston Tea Party, Revolutionary War).

After reading, follow up by asking some of the above questions about independence and freedom. Remember, when helping children comprehend reading materials, it’s important to go beyond the knowledge questions (when the Declaration of Independence was signed) and help children personalize the material (what freedom means to them).

Most importantly, remember that talking to children is the best way to create informal, teachable moments—and it’s also the best way to strengthen parent-child bonds!