As we were growing up, many of us had family members who had served in World War II. It was easier to understand the purpose of Remembrance Day when Grandpa would wear his medals to our school service. Our current students are a few generations removed from that war, though some have had family members serve in Korea, Afghanistan or with the United Nations Peacekeepers. It is difficult for some of them to understand the abstractness of war, so it is even more important for us to give them a realistic view of those events and history behind them.
It can be challenging finding reading activities for students in upper elementary because the subject matter is serious, often violent and challenging to read. While it is important for students to understand Canada’s role in conflicts around the world, they are still young and sometimes learning about such serious events can be frightening.
We decided to write our own reading pieces to help students understand some of the roles of Canadians. The reading passages were designed to be easily read and comprehended while still explaining the events of Vimy Ridge and D-Day. It is impossible to detail every event, but we have often found that students are very interested in learning about what happened. We emphasize the importance of learning about these conflicts so we can prevent them in the future.
Why do Canadians wear poppies?
Generally Canadians start wearing poppies around Canadian Thanksgiving until the end of Remembrance Day November 11. Traditionally they are worn on the left side over the heart, except for members of the Canadian Armed Forces who wear their according to the uniforms.
Dr. John McCrae wrote a very famous poem, “In Flanders Fields” in which he talks about the rows and rows of white crosses that mark the graves of dead soldiers in Flanders, Belgium. As these graves mark the ground, thousands of red poppies were growing all around.
After the war, people started using the poppy as a symbol for different organizations that helped people after the war. Poppies are worn in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom usually for Remembrance Day or Armistice Day.
If you’re looking to paint some poppies, we have a free lesson in our store.
What Activities Can a Teacher Do to Honour Remembrance Day?
One of the best ways for students to learn the importance of observing Remembrance Day is through a teacher’s actions in the classroom. While many teachers do poppy crafts or activities (which are great for younger students) it is vital to have those difficult conversations with your students. We try to avoid making Remembrance Day into an arts and crafts type holiday and focus more on the events and people that make up the history.
We are in no way saying poppy crafts and lessons are not worthwhile, but since thousands of those activities can be found anywhere online, we’ve chosen to focus on other activities in this post.
Read: Check out these books you can use in your classroom to read with younger students (and older students love picture books and being read to as well). Read this blog post called: Books for Remembrance Day for some great ideas that you can use in your classroom.
We collect as many books as possible with a variety of reading levels and keep them on a table reserved for Remembrance Day. Our students take their time reading through them.
We created Remembrance Day Reading and Writing Activities as a way to write content specific information at a reading level our students could easily manage without it being too graphic or disturbing for them. It’s written for Grade Four and up, but it could be used with Grade Three students if the articles were read aloud to the class.
Family Memories: We invite families to bring in pictures of family members who served in our Canadian military (or their country of origin). Families are invited to write a brief description of the person or where/when they served in the military. We display these pictures and their stories for a few months so students have a chance to get to know these people and their stories.
This activity has an added bonus of family members talking to each other about stories they maybe didn’t know before. I was in my late twenties before I knew my Grandfather’s World War Two story, but by then he had passed and I didn’t get the chance to ask the questions I had. It would have been so nice to know more to connect the little pieces of information I was able to gather.
Military Members: Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have a currently serving parent who is willing to come to our school and share their current military experiences. We invite these guests back to our school regularly to get to know our students.
Look Out into the Community: We find local cenotaphs, memorials and plaques in our city and learn about for whom they’re named. We research building and street names looking for the connections between those soldiers and our modern-day names.
Look for Historians: Invite members of the local lodge who might be able to connect you with local historians. And don’t forget about your city archives. The librarians and archivists at the archives are the experts and will be able to find you more information (that is appropriate for your students) that you could ever imagine.
Learn Together: We wrote a simple drama circle to help give our students an overview of some of the contributions our Canadian soldiers have made over the years. You can find it in our store as Remembrance Day in Canada Drama Circle.
Websites and Online Information: The Canadian government has created tools available for you to use in your classroom. You will need to preview them to make sure they are right for the students in your classroom. You can access the site in English or French.
On the site mentioned above students can research different war medals. They can learn to draw them and then write descriptions about how each types of medal was earned, the war in which it represents and about how many of them were given out to Canadian soldiers.
The Canadian Legion also has lesson plans that can be accessed on their site. It includes a list of school activities, history of the poppy campaigns, a bit of information about the legion and Canadian military and important Canadian symbols. We recommend these resources for Grades 5 and up.
Write to Soldiers: Students in your class can post messages or send letters and parcels to currently serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces through their website. Students can do this individually or you can write notes as a class.
Hold an Assembly: Of course we hold a solemn Remembrance Day assembly every year teaching students about audience etiquette, the symbolism of the poppy and the hope for world peace. Students present information, listen to the stories of others and create art and music for the event. In many Canadian provinces, it is part of the School Act that all schools must host a Remembrance Day assembly on the last day of school available before November 11. A moment of silence at 11:00 (or near it) must be included.
Remember All Year Long: We read and write as much as possible throughout the year about Canada’s role in these major world conflicts because even though Remembrance Day is just one day of the year, we all need to remember the sacrifice of so many people every single day.
Why Do We Need to Remember?
The World wars were a lifetime ago for us. Think about it. World War I was over 100 years ago and there is no direct connection to the students we teach. We are the connection. We need our students to remember the past so those mistakes will not be repeated.
Our world has become a place where information is everywhere, but not all that information is correct. We need to be the honest, unbiased truth about the hardships of war for our students. We need to help them understand and remember how the world ended up in a war.
But Maybe It’s Too Much For Students?
You know your class best. If you have students who have been traumatized in recent war around the world such as refugees or victims of violence, getting into the nitty gritty details is probably not the best choice. That being said, it is important to remember the many soldiers who died serving us. They are the reason we go school each day without fear. They are the reason we get to play outside. They are the reason we get to speak freely, go to the church or mosque and get to speak the language we choose. That will be real for all your students.
Here is a “Why It Matters” Story from One of our Students.
Disclaimer: You may need tissues. We pride ourselves on being able to get through most school situations without tears, but this event makes us tear up just remembering it.
Every year we hold a Remembrance Day assembly on the last school day before November 11. It’s actually in the School Act that every school in Alberta hold an assembly at this time. So, every school is holding their moment of silence across Alberta at 11:00 am.
It was a pretty common assembly with guest speakers from the Canadian Armed Forces, a poetry reading by a few students, a song from the choir and then the traditional trumpet playing of The Last Post.
I was so happy with how quiet and respectful our students were. There were a few tears (there always is) and generally the class is very quiet even leaving the gymnasium.
On the way back to class, one student came up and gave me a big hug and said, “Happy Remembrance Day!” She was smiling and happy.
I tried to explain that the point of Remembrance Day is more solemn and that using, “Happy Remembrance Day” isn’t really something we say. I told her that is was about honouring the soldiers who served in the wars and the ones who currently serve in our military today so we can all be safe and free.
Then she told me about the soldiers. They were Canadian Armed Forces who came to her town and brought her, her mother and her brother to safety after her father, uncle and cousins were murdered in their home. Their country was at war with itself.
She was given food, clothing and a teddy bear. Eventually her family made it to Canada as refugees from Syria. So, when she sees soldiers she thanks them for rescuing her. It makes her happy that she has come to Canada.
So, Happy Remembrance Day.
How do you emphasize the importance of Remembrance Day? Leave us your ideas in the comments below.