America’s Birthday: Join the Festivities!

6 min read

|By Gale Staff |

Most elementary students have a general appreciation for Independence Day. From Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence to sparklers and barbecues, Americans are familiar with the lore and the customs. However, under all the star-spangled decor, Independence Day is an academically fascinating holiday, especially for young learners developing their research skills.

To help you plan your Independence Day lesson, turn to Gale In Context: Elementary for fun activities and discussion topics. To better grasp history and traditions, students can explore thousands of themed resources throughout the archive, including kid-friendly magazine articles, videos, and organized topic summaries. Gale’s team designs the content housed in Gale In Context: Elementary with young learners in mind. Students can toggle reading levels and get definitions for challenging vocabulary. Our customizable learning tools give students control over their learning, helping them better engage with the material.

Independence Day is a fun theme for elementary learners. Use Gale In Context: Elementary to uncover new and exciting information about America’s birthday!

What exactly happened to establish the first Independence Day? Direct your class to Gale’s helpful Independence Day summary page to get started.

Leading up to the formation of the Continental Congress, tensions were growing between the colonies and the king. In 1773, a group of Americans disguised as Native Americans snuck aboard three British ships docked in Boston. Protesting against an unjust tax on tea, they dumped hundreds of chests of British tea in Boston Harbor. In response, Great Britain closed the Boston port and further restricted American authority by passing the Intolerable Acts.

This spurred American colonists to form the Continental Congress and pursue increased sovereignty. Delegates from the original colonies met for the First Continental Congress and began discussing official acts of rebellion. By 1776, many American colonists were ready to split their allegiance entirely from Great Britain. Continental Congressman Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence to proclaim the United States as a sovereign nation.

The Continental Congress technically voted on the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776, but requested some revisions to Jefferson’s draft. Notably, a passage written to abolish slavery was removed due to disagreement between the northern and southern colonies. By July 4, the congressmen had agreed on the new version and spread the news throughout the colonies.

The original Declaration of Independence still exists in the National Archives and remains a precious artifact. However, alongside its historical significance, the document continues to enthrall scholars thanks to several exciting mysteries and curious facts. Did you know that several versions of the Declaration of Independence exist? Or that no one signed the document on July 4? (John Hancock penned his famous signature later that summer.) There’s an odd label on the back of the document—no one knows who wrote it. There’s also debate about what kind of paper it’s written on, and a strange handprint smudges one of the original document’s corners.

Ask students to share how they celebrate Independence Day with their families, and you’ll undoubtedly hear about pool parties, backyard barbecues, and—of course—fireworks. How did fireworks shows become synonymous with our country’s independence? The Chinese invented and used fireworks for thousands of years, and European monarchs began integrating fireworks into their major celebrations as early as the fifteenth century. By 1776, fireworks were a well-established form of national pageantry around the world and were thus an obvious choice for commemorating our Independence Day.

John Adams famously told his wife in 1776 that the holiday should be observed with “shows, games, sports, bells, guns, bonfires and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward and forevermore.” Turns out he was right. The first organized Independence Day celebration occurred on July 4, 1777, in Philadelphia, and U.S. families have been similarly observing the holiday ever since. The 1777 commemoration included cannons, feasts, military displays, and, of course, red, white, and blue décor throughout the city. The evening ended with a fireworks display.

Our Independence Day is July 4, but at least 163 countries have their own comparable celebration.

In Mexico, families observe Mexican Independence Day on September 16, marking the first battle of the Mexican War of Independence. To celebrate, people in Mexico attend rodeos, parades, and dances, all while sporting the country’s colors: red, white, and green. The French have Bastille Day on July 14. In 1789, a revolutionary mob stormed the Bastille fortress in Paris. The event sparked the French Revolution and ultimately ended the French monarchy. Today, the French recognize Bastille Day through parades, fireworks, and dancing.

In Haiti, the small Caribbean nation won independence from France on January 1, 1804. Haitian families prepare a special pumpkin soup called joumou to commemorate their freedom, as the soup had been traditionally reserved for wealthy French enslavers. Kenyans celebrate their independence from the United Kingdom on December 12. Called Jamhuri (Republic) Day, Kenyan people host large feasts, parades, and dancing.

Ask your students to find parallels between each country’s independence celebrations and consider what those similarities say about the importance of a nation’s sovereignty and freedoms. Researching other countries’ Independence Day customs with reliable data from Gale In Context: Elementary helps students develop their critical thinking abilities and curiosity about the world.

One of the best perks of Gale In Context: Elementary is its built-in activities for students. Find Independence Day-themed games and worksheets to incorporate in your classroom. Here are some ideas to get you started.

A few of the 56 signatories of the Declaration of Independence are particularly well known (e.g., Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams), but who else penned their name on the Declaration of Independence? Ask students to select a lesser-known signatory and see what other information they can find about that historical figure.

Most of us know the Star-Spangled Banner’slyrics by heart, but what do they mean? Do students know that “spangled” means “sparkling,” or that a “rampart” is a “defensive wall?” When Francis Scott Key wrote the poem on the back of an old letter in 1814, he had no idea it would become the country’s national anthem and a vital symbol of U.S. independence. Discuss the song’s unique history and expand on its more challenging vocabulary.

As the Continental Congressmen learned, getting a group of people to agree can be a real challenge. Depending on when you introduce the lesson, ask students to decide on a classroom commitment for the summer or fall term. Ideas include keeping the classroom clean, respecting one another, or turning in homework on time. Students are welcome to debate with one another and offer changes. Once you have a consensus, students can officially sign the declaration with their personal John Hancock.

Whether planning a historical overview of the Declaration of Independence or a fun Independence Day activity, Gale In Context: Elementary can help you engage young learners and feel confident in the reliability of your information.

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