Food, fun and the Fourth: Teaching kids about America’s Independence Day

Published 11:49 pm Friday, July 3, 2009

It’s easy to convince kids to participate in traditional Fourth of July activities – What’s not to like about hot dogs, hamburgers, watermelon and fireworks shows?

But how do you help youngsters understand the meaning of the America’s Independence Day?

Dr. Liza Wilson, professor of education at the University of Alabama, said, “For younger students, the notion of independence can be related to their lives. The colonists were becoming independent and wanted to be on their own.”

Another source suggested comparing the relationship with an older sibling. The colonists resented “being told what to do” by Great Britain in the same way children resist instructions from older brothers and sisters.

“On a map show how far Great Britain was from the colonies,” Dr. Wilson suggested. “Explain that they wanted to make their own rules and be their own country.”

She suggested that older elementary students need to understand the bravery of those involved in writing the Declaration of Independence since the authors could have been arrested and executed for treason.

“For any age, students should know the people that were involved and understand their contributions to the Declaration of Independence – Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Richard Henry Lee, John Adams, Benjamin

Franklin, and George Washington (Washington was not involved in the actual writing of the Declaration of Independence because he was serving as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army),” she said.

Crafty ideas for teaching American history

Dr. Wilson and her colleague, ZuZu Freyer, director of the Teaching American History Program have developed three ideas for teaching children about Independence Day.

1. Children of all ages can create their own “history in a box” by taking any type of box or container, decorating the outside with a 4th of July stickers or images, and including inside:

A copy of the Declaration of Independence. Visit the National Archives for images and information

Flags, stars – stick-ons,

Pictures of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Ben Franklin, John Adams, and others. Search Google images.

A quill pen- Check your local craft store. If you cannot locate one, make your own with craft feathers.

2. You could sing (and add songs to the history in a box), “Yankee Doodle,” and other period pieces. (See

3. Play games from the time period: Blind Man’s Bluff, Hide & Seek, Leap Frog (only boys played this one!) and Skip Rope.

Hotdogs and hamburgers

Americans consume on average 60 hot dogs a year, most of them between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The cooked sausages also are known as frankfurters, franks, weenies, wienies, wieners, dogs, and red hots. Use of the term “hot dog” to describe the sausages appears to date back to the 1890s, when sausage vendors sold their wares outside the student dorms at major easter universities. Their carts became know as “dog wagons,” as a sarcastic comment on the source and quality of the meat.

There are many theories about the origin of America’s favorite food, the hamburger. One is that the German Hamburg-Amerika line boats, which brought emigrants to America in the 1850s, served a a famous Hamburg beef which was salted and sometimes slightly smoked, and therefore ideal for keeping on a long sea voyage. As it was hard, it was minced and sometimes stretched with soaked breadcrumbs and chopped onion. It was popular with the Jewish emigrants, who continued to make Hamburg steaks, as the patties were then called, with fresh meat when they settled in the U.S.


Homemade ice cream

Ice cream was served in conjunction with July Fourth festivities as early as 1798. It was a luxury in the years before an ice maker was invented in 1848. Ice cream lovers harvested ice from frozen northern lakes and kept it packed in sawdust until the summer.

The holiday’s hot temperatures have made ice cream a perennial favorite. A traditional vanilla recipe follows.

Vanilla Ice Cream Spectacular

(From The Southern Living Cookbook)

5 cups milk

2 ¼ cups sugar

¼ cup plus 2 TBS all purpose flour

¼ tsp. salt

5 eggs, beaten

4 cups half-and-half

1 ½ TBS vanilla extract

Heat milk in a 3-quart saucepan over low heat until hot. Combine sugar, flur and salt; gradually add sugar mixture to milk, stirring until blended. Cook over medium heat 15 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly.

Gradually stir about one-fourt of hot mixture into beaten eggs; add to remaining hot mixture, stirring constantly. Cook 1 minue; remove from heat, and let cool. Chill at least two hours.

Combine half-and-half and vanilla in a large bowl; add chilled custard, stirring with a wire whisk. Pour into freezer can of a 1-gallon hand-turned or electric freezer. Freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Let ripen 1 ½ to 2 hours. Yield: 1 gallon.


Fireworks and black ash were used to celebrate important events long before the American Revolutionary War. The very first celebration of Independence Day was in 1777, six years before Americans knew whether the new nation would survive the war; fireworks were a part of all festivities. In 1789, George Washington’s inauguration was also accompanied by a fireworks display. This early fascination with their noise and color continues today. (Source: Wikipedia)

Area residents may take in a fireworks show:

Andalusia – The City of Andalusia is sponsoring a Fourth of July event at Kiwanis Fiargrounds. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. with musical entertainment from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m., followed by fireworks. Concessions will not be available.

Opp – The CIty of Opp plans a fireworks show at “dark-30,” and asks residents to park at Lake Frank Jackson State Park. Live music, free hot dogs and watermelon are planned beginning at noon.