Fire up a star-spangled holiday by telling stories, talking history and freedom with kids

What does it mean in your home, in your family, to be an American? Have you ever talked about it? With so much in the news about immigration policy, including lots of tearful images of kids and families, why not let Independence Day spark discussion.

Detroit Tigers José Iglesias and Leonys Martin, both natives of Cuba, along with 23 others, were sworn in as U.S. citizens before the start of a game at Comerica Park between Detroit and the Oakland A’s on June 25. A Click on Detroit article by Steve Garagiola, noted that “Iglesias has said he dreamed of becoming a U.S. citizen since he defected from Cuba as a teenager. He said he came to the U.S. with a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and a dream.”

Iglesias has lots of company. According to the Pew Research Center last year, “the total number of lawful immigrants—naturalized U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents—more than doubled since the 1970s, reaching 31.6 million in 2015.”

Clearly, many people from many countries legally immigrate to the U.S. , and many risk everything to get here by any means available, including illegal. Talk to kids in an age-appropriate way about why that is and what freedom means. Perhaps take a look at this children’s book titled What’s the Big Deal About Freedom by Ruby Shamir, which includes background on how American came to be called “the land of the free.” It might also be an opportune time to discuss that freedom also comes with responsibility. What are our responsibilities as Americans? What is your own family’s immigration journey? Where did your ancestors hail from? Did your children’s great-grandparents pass by the Statue of Liberty?

To continue the conversation in a way that’s understandable to children, some storybooks that address immigration include The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, and My Diary from Here to There by Amada Irma Pérez.

What does it require to become a citizen anyway? If family members in your household weren’t already citizens, could they “pass the test”? Part of the application process for becoming a US citizen is passing a civics test, which covers U.S. history and government topics. An ABC news story by Rheana Murray a few years back pulled 10 questions from the test randomly. They included a few that most U.S. adults would probably get right quickly such as, “In what month do we vote for president?” or “How old do citizens have to be to vote for president?” and “When is the last day you can send in federal income tax forms?” But here are a few others: “How many U.S. senators are there?” “What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?” “What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?”

Last year a National Review article by Grant Addison, reported that some states are considering legislation that would require students to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test before getting their high school diploma. The article also cites a 2012 survey By Xavier University, which found that one in three native born citizens failed it, compared to the 97.5 percent pass rate among foreign-born applicants reported by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services a couple years earlier.

After the Big and Deep Talks and Tests, toss a little lighter kind of learning into the mix during Fourth of July travel by getting the whole family involved in competing in United States trivia. Use State of Confusion as iOS app, Android app, Mac app, or Windows download. Learn and test key facts about the 50 states, including state capitals, abbreviations, flowers, birds, flags, and nicknames. For both kids and grown-ups, geography, memory, and visual perception skills get a vigorous work-out.

Another great in-the-car or pre-bedtime learning adventure that gets kids “exploring” the world around them are Discover the Zoo Preschool Adventure Tablet, Explore the City Kindergarten Adventure Tablet, Travel the World First Grade Adventure Tablet. Each page “visits” different locations, accompanied by charming characters and fun facts. The tablet format lays flat, making the workbooks easy for right- and left-handed use. Through July 4 they will be 25% off!

Make this Independence Day an adventure in learning about family roots, our country, freedom, and the world around us. Unfurl a flag for the Fourth and have some serious fun!