Teaching kids appreciation for veterans

by Brittany Gilbert

When I was in junior high, my history teacher gave the class an assignment to interview a veteran. I didn’t know anything about my Papaw’s time in the Army, but I saw the memorabilia around the house.

I honestly just thought it would be an easy way to complete the assignment, but here I am almost 20 years later, extremely grateful that I took the easy way out. My Papaw died in January, and his handwritten letter to me explaining his time in the Army is something I will always treasure.

When I was growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, war was just something we read about in our textbooks. We had no idea what it meant to respect those in uniform or what kind of sacrifice had been made for our freedom. The children growing up today are surrounded by war. Fallen soldiers, videos of moms and dads returning to visit their family, and the people on opposing sides arguing their points. If we aren’t careful, this generation of youth can become numb to the reality of war. As parents, we can raise our children to respect our nation’s veterans and service men and women. There are many ways to have an ongoing conversation about service.

Keep it simple

Depending on your children’s ages, it’s a good idea to start slow. Explain that military personnel are responsible for keeping our nation safe, much like police officers keep our cities safe. Encourage your child to ask questions. This will give you an idea of what they are thinking and how you can assure your child that they are safe.

If you have the news on in your home or your kids have access to social media, chances are they have seen violent footage or heard talk of the gruesome reality of war. It’s a lot for little minds to comprehend, so it may be necessary to show them on a map or globe that war is far away and they are safe.

Share activities

Complete activities together that celebrate veterans and active service men and women.

You probably have family members who have served or are serving, and this is a great place to start. Look through family pictures and memorabilia and interview family members.

The interview I had with my Papaw was open ended. I simply asked him to tell me about his time in service and left it up to him on what he wanted to tell me. I received three pages of him describing his two years in the Army. There are some things that they may not want to disclose, but more so than not, they want to help others understand their experience, especially if it helps kids celebrate veterans and active service personnel.

Care packages

Put together care packages to show our veterans and service men and women that you care and that someone is thinking of them. Operation Gratitude has a website (operationgratitude.com) that is easy to navigate, and they send care pages to veterans, first responders, service men and women working overseas and their families, and many others.

The website has all the information to donate or send a care package and make sure it gets in the right hands.

There are many crafts that you and your family can do in honor of veterans and those actively serving. If your child doesn’t already know patriotic songs such as the Star Spangled Banner, you could help them to learn it as well as other songs. You can write thank you letters, do coloring pages, paint a flag canvas or a flower pot and deliver to a veteran.

Check with your local nursing home or veterans hospital and see if there are any needs. Blankets and toiletries are almost always a need and would help your kids to understand how important it is to take care of the people who have sacrificed so much for us.

At the end of my Papaw’s letter to me, he said, “Thank you for your interest.” It only occurred to me recently that while he never brought up his time in the Army, it didn’t mean he didn’t want to talk about it. In his own words he was “honored to serve.”

It’s my responsibility to teach my kids to honor veterans and others in service so that they grow up with respect and an understanding of all that these men and women have done for us.


Brittany Gilbert is a former FACS teacher at Maumelle High School. She and her husband, Levi, have two sons and a daughter and live in Conway. Brittany can be reached at [email protected].