1. Our Flag
The next time you're with your child and you see an American flag, point it out. Explain that it stands for our whole country and that it's one way we tell the world who we are as a people. It also shows we're connected to each other as Americans -- we're on the same team. Because our flag is special, we treat it with respect.
At home, look at a flag together and point out that each part has a meaning. The 50 stars stand for our 50 states. The 13 stripes stand for the original 13 British colonies, whose citizens decided in 1776 that they wanted to govern themselves rather than be ruled by a king.
2. Our Pledge
If your child is in school, she may have recited the Pledge of Allegiance, but like many other kids her age, she might not understand exactly what she's saying.
Explain that the pledge is simply a promise. We're giving our word that we'll be loyal (allegiance) to our country, which the flag stands for, because it's a place where we can decide who our leaders will be (republic), where everyone sticks together (indivisible), and where our goal is for people to be free (liberty) and treated fairly by others (justice).
Ask your child to guess whether most countries have a pledge of allegiance of their own. (Most don't.) We, as Americans, decided to create one to remind ourselves of our special freedoms. Written in 1892, the pledge was first recited during a celebration to mark the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's voyage to America.
3. Our National Anthem
If your child watches the Winter Olympics with you, he's likely to hear at least one rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Explain that it's our country's song and that we sing it to show that we are proud to be American. To signal our respect, we usually stand while singing it.
Then share the story behind the anthem: A young poet and lawyer named Francis Scott Key wrote the words during the War of 1812. After British ships bombarded a fort in Baltimore during a fierce battle, Key saw our flag still flying, proudly waving. It meant that we still had our freedoms and that we had defended our young country. Ask your child what the image of a flag waving means to him.
4. Our Independence Day
You don't have to wait until the July 4 festivities to explain what the fun is about. July 4 is our country's birthday. It marks the day in 1776 that a group of determined patriots declared our independence -- that no other country could rule us.
To do this was extremely dangerous. Back then, our ruler was the king of England, and he had one of the most powerful militaries in the world. To rebel against the king was to risk your life. Still, the king's laws were harsh and unfair, so American patriots battled for the freedom to govern themselves. In 1783, the Americans won the fight, which we call the Revolutionary War.For older kids, explain that Americans gave their reasons for rebelling in the Declaration of Independence -- one of our country's most important documents. In it, Thomas Jefferson wrote that all people are entitled to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
5. Our Communities
Your child's home and community are the most real and important parts of America to her. "Kids become patriotic gradually as they learn how they fit into their family and how their family fits into their larger community and then their country," says Anne S. Robertson, a spokeswoman for the National Parent Information Network, a nonprofit organization associated with the U.S. Department of Education.
Take a walk together around your neighborhood, and talk about the values shared by the members of your community. Show your child some of the ways in which people work together and depend on each other. Truck drivers, shopkeepers, repair people -- along with many others -- help keep the community running. "Our nation is built on cooperation," says Michael Berson, Ph.D., an associate professor of social-science education at the University of South Florida, in Tampa. Seeing the community in action reassures and enlightens young children, and it teaches that we're all in this together.