"For students, [Veterans Day] serves two purposes. It’s a history lesson, and it shows that the community collectively honors people who have done great things for the nation," says Hinsdale dad Jim Nalepa, a former captain with the 82nd Airborne.
Here are some ideas:
• Talk about the Veterans Day activities at your child’s school. Hearing stories of veterans’ service, singing the national anthem and going to assemblies make an impression, says Mindy McMahon, principal of Madison School in Hinsdale. "It shows students that this is not just something you read about and never see but it provides a powerful and living message."
• Reach out to local veterans. Younger students can make cards for veterans and give them to a local Veterans of Foreign Wars group or United Service Organizations, (312) 923-7070, www.uso.org/illinois/. For older students, Paul Herbert, director of the First Division Museum at Cantigny in Wheaton, recommends conducting an oral history interview with a local veteran. Contact the museum for more information, (630) 668-5185, www.rrmtf.org/firstdivision/. If you have relatives or friends who are (or were) in the military, ask if they would be willing to talk to your kids about their experiences.
• Explore the soldier’s experience at a museum. Climb in a life-size dugout at the First Division Museum at Cantigny, which also offers a cannon dedication and card-making workshops on Veterans’ Day, as well as educational materials. Check out life on a war-time submarine at the Museum of Science and Industry’s U-505 exhibit, (773) 684-1414, www.msichicago.org. Dress in combat gear and handle artifacts at the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, (312) 326-0270, www.nvvam.org. (Many of the exhibits are for older kids, but "The Things We Carried" is appropriate for elementary-age kids).
• Attend a Veterans’ Day event or memorial. A new Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial will be unveiled at Wabash Plaza, on Wacker Drive between Wabash Avenue and State Street, on Veterans Day from 10:30 a.m. to noon, (312) 744-7582. Visit www.ci.chi.il.us/WarMemorials/index.html for a list of other memorials in the city, or check with your local village hall to see if there’s one nearby. Make the activity more personal by visiting a memorial for a conflict in which friends or relatives served or one your child is learning about at school.
Nalepa attended his son Max’s Veterans Day assembly last year wearing a World War II paratrooper’s uniform. When asked why we should recognize veterans, Max, 7, says, "They served so we can be free."
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