Stars, Stripes, and Shoestrings
Beth Engelman, education expert and co-founder of Mommy on a Shoestring, advises on how to talk to your kids about the Fourth of July
Formerly a first grade teacher, Beth Engelman is no stranger to American flags made out of construction paper and George Washington portraits tacked on bulletin boards. And while her charming website, Mommy on a Shoestring, might not be overtly educational (instead focusing on thrifty crafts and useful DIY), Engelman is still an expert when it comes to making history lessons fun. We asked her how she discusses our most patriotic of holidays—not to mention the founding of our country—to her six-year-old, and weren’t too surprised to discover that her advice is simple, effective, and (note to self!) quite worthy of emulation. —Lucie Alig
Fourth of July is such a fun holiday, but how do you explain its importance to the younger set?
If there’s one thing any kid can relate to, it’s a birthday celebration. So in my house, we regard the Fourth of July as the best birthday party of the year—the birth of our country. Depending on your child’s age, I think it’s important to discuss how the U.S. came to be, and how it “broke free” of England. As a child, I was always intrigued by the idea that we won the Revolutionary War despite the fact that the British had a bigger army, with better weapons and uniforms. Our win represented a valuable lesson about outward appearances and the will to succeed.
To some extent, kids learn about American history and politics at school. What lessons are important for parents to reinforce at home?
Treating everyone as equals, making choices based on your convictions, and standing up for what you think is right are themes that I emphasize at home. I hope my son will remember these principles as he grows older, especially when it comes to decision-making and peer pressure. We also talk about the democratic process in our home, and often use voting as a way to make decisions about where to go or things to do together. Of course, if you ask my son, he might say democracy doesn’t always reign in our house—sometimes whatever Mom says, goes!
The 2012 election is still a ways away, but what do you think is important for kids to understand about the process?
Politics is a great lens through which to teach empathy, and the importance of seeing someone else’s point of view. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but you do need to listen. I’ve talked to my six-year-old about the election process since the start of 2012 primary season in January. I want him to understand that a lot of smart and talented people run; some win, some lose, but they all benefit from having tried to make a difference. It’s important to engage in the process—by voting, volunteering, even running for office! These days, I’m big on teaching kids to “take a chance, even if you fail.”