Teaching the History of the American Flag to Kids

Do you know the real history of the American flag? Most of us were taught that a young widow named Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag, based upon a drawing given to her by General George Washington. While Ms. Ross was indeed a fascinating woman, it is not likely that she really sewed the first flag, nor is it likely that George Washington came up with the design.

There are many myths and mysteries that surround our flag, and while these legends are a fun part of the fabric of our nation, it is also important that students learn the true facts about how this symbol of our country came to be. Many historians agree that is was likely Francis Hopkinson who designed the flag, but who sewed that first flag is still a mystery that may never be solved. There were several flag makers in Philadelphia during that time, and any one of them may have done the job. 

The Washington-Ross story is just the beginning when it comes to teaching kids about the history of our flag. Here some other ideas:

  • Why a flag? Look at flags of other nations throughout history. Ask students to speculate why nations and organizations have flags. Discuss why flags are such powerful symbols, and how a flag can evoke such strong emotions among the people of a nation. Talk about why our founding fathers chose to create a flag for our country. Have your students create a flag to represent their classroom, family or neighborhood.
  • Our changing flag: Find photos and descriptions of the changes our flag has been through over the years, from the very first flag with its ring of 13 stars to the flag we have today. Discuss the symbolism of all the elements of our flag: 13 stripes representing the original 13 colonies, and 50 stars representing the states. Talk about the symbolism of the colors used in the US flag and how the flag represents the ideals of our nation. You can also investigate the symbolism in the flags of other nations and the ideals those symbols represent.
  • The Star Spangled Banner: Print out the words to "The Star Spangled Banner." Discuss the meaning of this poem that became our National Anthem. Talk about the images evoked by the words in the poem, and what Francis Scott Key may have been feeling and thinking when he wrote it. Encourage your students to try writing their own poem inspired by our flag.
  • The Flag Code. Ask your students if they've ever seen a flag flown at half-mast, or if they've ever watched someone folding a flag. Discuss flag etiquette and the rituals involved in how we treat our flag. For older students, discuss the Flag Code as it relates to the first amendment. A copy of the Flag Code can be acquired at http://www.usflag.org
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