Teach Kids the Meaning of Remembrance & Veterans Day

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, hostilities ceased on the Western Front when Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allied Forces. Thus, ended the Great War. Many believed this was “the war to end all wars.” Armistice Day commemorated the date. Following World War II, the holiday was renamed Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the U.S. On November 11, Americans and Canadians pause to remember those who have served in the armed forces. Here are some ideas to teach kids the meaning Remembrance Day and Veterans Day via travel and at home.

Poppies represent World War I and are strongly linked to Remembrance Day on November 11
Poppies represent World War I and are strongly linked to Armistice Day on November 11 (Photo credit: zoomteam, Depositphotos.com)

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1. Remembrance Through Family Stories

Remembering is easy for my parents’ generation because many of them lived through WWII. My mother was just a small child when her older brother joined the Canadian forces in 1939 and he went to Europe for the war’s duration. I grew up hearing her stories about the big brother who went off to war. When he came home years later to find his little sister was all grown up, he was heartbroken that he had missed her childhood. My mother kept a bundle of his war letters tucked away in a desk drawer. She would take them out from time to time to read with me. I remember because of those letters. Sharing family stories like this with your children will keep this history alive.

Lessons of war should be passed down from generation to generation so we can avoid future conflicts (Photo credit:
Lessons of war should be passed down from generation to generation so we can avoid future conflicts (Photo credit: Preto_perola, Depositphotos.com)

2. Meaningful Travel

It is more difficult to teach my own children about war history, war-time sacrifices, and paying respect to those who served because those conflicts seem so far removed from their daily experience. They memorize facts from history textbooks without really understanding what took place. And then, sadly they promptly forget everything they learned once the testing is complete.

Most kids and adults retain more information when they can actually visit a memorial, museum or war site. My family attempts to incorporate these activities such as these into our travels to further our understanding of the major conflicts of the last century and ensure my children understand the significance of November 11.

World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.
World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. (Photo credit: packshot, Depositphotos.com)

3. European Monuments

Traveling abroad provides an opportunity for families to get a firsthand look at some of the sites we read about in history books. The two World Wards gravely affected most of Europe. Your family will learn touching and historic lessons at battle sites, museums and memorials throughout Europe in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Poland, and beyond.

Centre Juno Beach, D Day Canadian Memorial
Centre Juno Beach, D Day Canadian Memorial (Photo credit: packshot, Depositphotos.com)

On a family visit to France, my family embarked on a D-Day tour of Normandy. Here, we learned more about the invasion of June 6, 1944. Our tour was focused on the Canadian D-Day sites, but similar tours of American grounds are also available. We visited Juno Beach, where Canadian troops came ashore as part of Operation Overlord. At the Juno Beach Centre Museum, we learned about the war efforts made by Canadians, both at home and abroad during World War II. We also toured the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, where more than 2,000 soldiers are buried.

Normandy D-Day landing beach
Normandy D-Day landing beach (Photo credit: underworld1, Depositphotos.com)

Our day in Normandy was an emotional one. We reflected on the tragic events that took place there decades before and paid our respects to those who sacrificed their lives. Standing in the fog on Juno Beach, we imagined what it must have been like for the soldiers coming ashore, knowing they likely would not survive the day. Later, walking among the grave-markers in the cemetery, we felt the full impact of how many soldiers did not return home. I could no longer hold back the tears that had been threatening all day. I read the names engraved on the headstones, realizing how many of the young fallen men were not much older than my own teenager. My daughter may not remember much from her tenth grade history class that year, but I know she remembers what she learned and how she felt during our trip to Normandy.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in France
Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in France (Photo credit: audioscience, Depositphotos.com)

4. Washington D.C. Sites

A visit to one of the many war memorials or museums in the U.S. capital offers an invaluable way to help kids gain a better appreciation of historical war events. On a trip to Washington, D.C., families can visit the World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Women’s Memorial, the DC War Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Additionally, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, visitors learn about the holocaust, remember the victims, and reflect on the importance of preserving democratic values and cultivating a sense of moral responsibility. Visitors to the nearby Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia may also pay tribute to veterans and historic figures buried there as well as at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Ceremonial guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery
Ceremonial guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery (Photo credit: kmiragaya, Depositphotos.com)

I considered myself fairly well-versed in the history of the Vietnam War prior to my first trip to America’s capital. I had grown up watching television shows that took place during the war and I majored in Political Science at college, studying the conflict in detail. But nothing prepared me for the experience of seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. As I stared at that nearly 250-foot-long wall and the 58,000 names inscribed upon it, the extensive loss of life caused by that conflict struck me. I became overcome with emotion. As a Canadian with no connection to this conflict whatsoever, I sat on the ground in front of the memorial sobbing uncontrollably over the senselessness of war and the losses that so many families suffered as a result. It is experiences like this which kids will remember a lot longer than reading statistics from a textbook.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. (Photo credit: joebenning, Depositphotos.com)

5. Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor

At Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu in Hawaii, visitors learn about the attack by Japan in the early hours of December 7, 1941. The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument teaches visitors about the bombing and honors the victims. The Pearl Harbor Visitors Center offers exhibit galleries provide a highly detailed account of the actual Pearl Harbor attack. There is also a self-guided torpedo display and a very poignant submarine memorial garden that sheds light on the circumstances of all the submarines that were lost during the Pacific War. In the Memorial Theatre, view a 23-minute documentary on the attack. Then you can board the boat to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. The memorial site is a moving and contemplative place.

Tickets to Pearl Harbor are reservable online (with a nominal service fee), and free to the public. If you don’t reserve entrance tickets ahead of time, then you must get to Pearl Harbor by 7 am to join the queue to obtain your entrance passes. You can also purchase Pearl Harbor passes through Viator. For more in-depth information, book a tour of Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii
Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii (Photo credit: jandu, Depositphotos.com)

6. War Memorials and Museum in Ottawa

In the Canadian capital city of Ottawa, the National War Memorial symbolizes “the sacrifice of all Canadians who have served Canada in time of war in the cause of peace and freedom,” according to the Veterans Affairs Canada. Visitors can also pay respects at the Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Additionally, the Reconciliation Monument commemorates Canada’s role in international peacekeeping. The Canadian War Museum, also located in Ottawa, is the national museum dedicated to the education, preservation, and remembrance of Canada’s military history.

Guards at The National War Memorial in Ottawa
Guards at The National War Memorial in Ottawa (Photo credit: bloodua, Depositphotos.com)

7. Local War Memorials

Many families don’t have an opportunity to visit Washington D.C. or Ottawa to visit memorials and museums, much less the battlefields of Europe. But even at home, we can take steps to ensure our kids have a better understanding of the meaning of Remembrance Day and Veterans Day. We can start by visiting a local war memorial. Most communities have erected memorials for local residents lost in battle.

Reconciliation: The Peacekeeping Monument in Canada's Capital
Reconciliation: The Peacekeeping Monument in Canada’s Capital (Photo credit: adwo@hotmail.com, Depositphotos.com)

8. Veterans Day and Remembrance Day Events

Families can also take the time to attend a Remembrance Day or Veterans Day service. Children will long remember the site of veterans standing at attention with tears rolling down their cheeks as wreaths of poppies are laid at monuments or military graves while the haunting bugle call of The Last Post is played.

Parades in both the U.S. and Canada also pay tribute to war heroes on November 11. Veterans don their dress uniforms and medals to march along parade routes or ride in motorcades. Military bands play patriotic music as well. Take a look at this year’s Veterans Day events in the U.S. according to Military.com and Remembrance Day events in Canada per Veterans Affairs Canada. (Many events held virtually in 2020.)

The Sound of Music

9. War Movies Appropriate for Kids

Visiting historic sites in-person is truly meaningful. But kids also learn through thoughtful stories told via movies. These films do the opposite of glorifying violence and war.

The Sound of Music is a sweet tale of a singing family in the Austrian Alps, which takes place at the beginning of World War II. Rated G, this film is suitable for all ages. Parents can pause the movie to discuss the more ominous themes of Nazism and war as appropriate.

With older children, consider watching Life Is Beautiful (rated PG-13). In this award-winning Italian film, a father protects his son from the concentration camp horrors by making their imprisoned lives seem like a game.

Or, rent Jojo Rabbit (rated PG-13). This darkly humorous tale about World War II is shown through the eyes of a little boy whose imaginary friend is a bumbling version of Hitler himself. Of course, in the end, our protagonist learns that his “hero” had it all terribly, terribly wrong.

Although tragic and at times disturbingly graphic, teens will learn much about war and sacrifice from Schindler’s List. This Steven Spielberg film won the Academy Award for Best Picture for its haunting portrayal of Oskar Schindler. This real-life flawed hero risked his life to save 1,200 Jews in Poland during World War II.

The Poppy Lady book

10. Children’s Books About Veterans and War

History textbooks can be dry, often focusing on dates rather than personal stories that bring humanity to the realities of war. Some children’s books, however, do a wonderful job of teaching the meaning of Veterans Day and Remembrance Day.

For grade schoolers, Veterans: Heroes in Our Neighborhood is a rhyming picture book that fosters an appreciation of the veterans in their communities. Similarly, Veterans Day uses rhythm and rhyme to teach the importance of this holiday. Kids can discover how the red poppy became the symbol of World War II in The Poppy Lady. Meanwhile, World War II for Kids is an interactive book that teaches kids through activities and real-life stories from soldiers and survivors.

All teens should read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. This Jewish teen’s journal details her experience while hiding from Nazi occupiers in her home city of Amsterdam. It will strike a chord with young readers as they see themselves in her adolescent struggles, both mundane and extraordinary. For younger kids, there is Who Was Anne Frank?, appropriate for ages 8 to 12.

Anne Frank House Museum
Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Photo credit: Phototraveller, Depositphotos.com)

Why Teach the Meaning of Remembrance Day and Veterans Day

As citizens of the U.S. and Canada, we owe it to our veterans to understand the sacrifices they made to protect our freedom. As parents, we owe it to our children to teach them about the impact of war so there will be fewer conflicts, more peace, and no need to build more war memorials.

Monument of World War I with wreath of poppies
Monument of World War I with wreath of poppies (Photo credit: Havanaman, Depositphotos.com)

Learn More

Flanders Fields acts as an important memorial of World War I. Discover what to expect when visiting this area of Belgium in our story about peace and remembrance in Flanders Fields.

Explore more of Washington D.C. in this West Wing Tour.

Teach the Meaning of Veterans Day and Remembrance Day Through Travel and at Home

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How do you teach the meaning of Remembrance Day and Veterans Day? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Great post, Lisa. I recently heard some young people talking on a Toronto bus. One said “Why should I wear a poppy for some white man’s war?” If I’d had a chance (the kids were exiting back door), I would have pointed out that WWII was a war against ethnic cleansing, racism and the persecution of anyone different. While it’s true that Canada needs some new national holidays that commemorate our cultural and scientific achievements and not just military events, a lot of kids don’t get that Remembrance Day is not about ‘celebrating’ war, it’s about ‘never again’.

    1. Thank you, Lesley! You make an excellent point about the meaning of Remembrance Day. There seem to be far too many people lately that do think it is about celebrating war. I’ve even heard of schools cancelling Remembrance Day activities because they think it’s too sad for the children. I think we, as a society, need to do a better job of teaching kids the “never again” message.

  2. I am dying to do the D-Day tour in Normandy – the American version I guess. The WWII memorial in DC is really nice. My kids loved it, though I’m not sure they loved it for the meaning. It was just beautiful and fun to climb.

  3. This is the most emotional post I have ever read. My uncle sent a record he made in England while serving in WW II and I would request hearing it time and time again to hear him say he was alright. He came home uninjured.

    1. Thank you, Ellen! I think it’s so hard for most of us to even imagine what it must have been like for these young men to go off to war for years with their loved ones relying on sporadic correspondence as assurance that they were doing okay. I get teary just thinking about what it must have been like for my grandmother and all mothers to send their sons off to battle not knowing if they would ever see them again.

  4. very nice post
    the great way of your blog information to suggest and tell the meaning of veterans-day.
    thanks for sharing