How to talk to kids about the real history of the 4th of July

How to talk to kids about the real history of the 4th of July

The 4th of July is a day often celebrated with fireworks, barbecues, and celebrations, but it's important to be honest with kids that the 4th of July does not represent freedom for everyone. Here are some scripts for having this conversation with your little ones:

The history and meaning of the 4th of July
Start by explaining the historical significance of the 4th of July. You can say, “On this day, a long time ago, the United States was granted independence and freedom from Great Britain when they adopted the Declaration of Independence." This provides a basic explanation about why people celebrate. Next, you might want to clarify what independence means. You could say, “That means that the United States became its own country and was no longer ruled by Great Britain. Many people celebrate this as America becoming free.” This helps children make sense of what freedom meant in this case.

The limitations to freedom for all
We should teach kids the reality that not everyone experienced the same freedom and rights that came with independence. You could say, “Not everyone was free, though. Many people, especially those who were Black, Indigenous, and people of color, were not treated fairly and faced discrimination, displacement, and enslavement. That means they were treated badly, pushed out their homes, and forced to work without pay. That's not freedom!” This helps children understand that Independence Day didn’t mean freedom and equality for all.

Racial justice and Juneteenth
Next, you may want to help your little ones understand how racism impacted (and still impacts) freedom. You can explain, “Some people did not have freedom at all, and they were treated unfairly because of racism and hatred. That means people treat someone badly because of the color of their skin. It took a long time for everyone to be granted freedom, and even today, not everybody in the United States has the same rights and freedom.” This conversation helps kids recognize ongoing struggles for equality. If your kids are familiar with Juneteenth, you can talk about that to put the holidays and timelines into perspective. You can say, “You may remember we celebrate Juneteenth, an important day that celebrates the freedom of Black Americans in the United States, which happened almost 100 years later!” This helps kids make sense of the sequence of events and recognize just how long it was before some people were even granted basic freedom.

Using this day as a chance to reflect
The 4th of July is a great opportunity to teach kids about history, social justice, and progress. It's a good time to reflect on how far we've come, how far we still have to go, and what our role in fighting for justice can be. You might say, “When we celebrate the 4th of July, we can celebrate the progress we’ve made as a country, but we should also think about everything that still needs to be done to create a world that is safe and inclusive for everyone. We know we aren't there yet! What can we do to keep fighting for rights for everyone?” This will reinforce the importance of ongoing efforts toward equality and justice.

By using these points, you can help little ones understand the historical significance of the 4th of July while acknowledging the complexities and ongoing journey toward equal rights and freedom for all.

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