Memorial Day is a lot of things. Not only a day for picnics and grilling and family gatherings, but also, as the name implies, a day for memorializing. Memorial Day started in the aftermath of the American Civil War and was intended as a day to pay tribute to those who had died during the war. Memorial Day’s somber origins don’t mean that you have to skip the family get-togethers to teach your children about Memorial Day.

Some families struggle to hit the right note between respect and fun on Memorial Day, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle. There are plenty of events that honor the origins of Memorial Day while still providing a nice time for families and kids.

Attend a Memorial Day Parade

Many towns and cities hold parades for Memorial Day. These events can be a perfect opportunity to teach your children about the history of the day. Your child will enjoy a fun day in the sun and see various military and veterans groups. You can buy a small flag for your child to wave as they watch the parade. If you think your child would enjoy it, you can make a bingo card for your child of different groups they might see in the parade. Suggested categories include marching band, the U.S. Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard, as well as the VFW and American Legion. (Related: SoCal Spotlight – Los Feliz)

Clean Up a Local Cemetary

Another great way to spend Memorial Day is to help clean up a local cemetery. This can be a memorable family activity that also gives back to the community and teaches your children about honoring those who have died while serving. Some cities have formal cleanup activities you can get involved in, but even if that isn’t the case in your area, you can still go on your own.

Donate to Veterans Organizations

Bring a few extra dollars with you when you go to the store on Memorial Day weekend. Groups like the VFW often raise money by selling paper poppies on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. These little flowers are intended to remind people of the famous poem, “In Flanders Field,” by John McCrae. It encourages people to reflect on the human cost of war. If your child is old enough, you can read the poem with them. Make sure your child thanks the veteran when they get the flower.

Make Cards For Wounded Veterans

If you want a quiet indoor activity, then making cards for wounded veterans can be a great choice. Contact your local VA hospital to find out their address and any guidelines they may have. Incorrect addresses to Walter Reed Hospital are often circulated online, so be sure to call your local hospital directly to find an appropriate address.

Memorial Day is traditionally a somber day of reflection and gratitude, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong time for your children to have interesting and educational experiences. Children learn through fun, and with this list of activities, they are bound to enjoy themselves and gain an appreciation for the sacrifices of service members.