Photo by Ariel da Silva Parreira from FreeImages
Photo by Ariel da Silva Parreira from FreeImages

Fire up the grill and whip out the candles--and it will take lots--because it’s the United States’ 243rd birthday. Fireworks and crowds are the signature scenes for this sizzling summer holiday, but it can also be a low-key backyard gathering for family, friends, and neighbors that crackles with fun and hospitality.

As with any birthday party, ways to celebrate are virtually endless. Last week the website published “12 Fun 4th of July Activities for Kids,” by Shawanda Jones. She quotes Quirky Momma blogger Deirdre Smith as saying, “The Fourth of July is a wonderful time to celebrate family, community and the things that make our country special.”

And Jones says, “If you’re having a cookout, barbecue or even a fancy Independence Day shindig, get the kids involved.” Her article links to how-tos for “easy and stylish” patriotic napkin rings from That’s What She Said, a blog hosted by a St. Louis, MO, mom of 3 boys, and paper streamers from The Crafty Crow: A Children’s Collective, part of its “15 Patriotic Crafts and Treats for Fourth of July.” In turn, that site also includes links to instructions for Fourth of July Bingo and a festive, starry suncatcher.

Helping kids understand what the party’s about is part of the fun. (Plus, it’s a great chance to slip in a few history and geography lessons, not to mention some new vocabulary words.) A Free School video on YouTube titled “Why We Celebrate Independence Day,” garnering nearly 200,000 views since it was posted in 2015, succinctly describes in about 3 ½ minutes, the history of Independence Day including the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. And PBS, which broadcasts the annual extravaganza, A Capitol Fourth, from Washington, D.C., offers a great summary of the “History of America’s Independence Day.”

Technically, according to Time magazine, among other sources, President John Adams intended the celebration to be July 2, the date the Declaration of Independence was approved. However, then, just as now, “stuff happens,” and approvals, paperwork, and technicalities pushed the official adoption back a couple days. Still, Adams apparently felt so strongly about the “correct” date that notes he would “reportedly turn down invitations to appear at July 4th events in protest.” In an extremely odd coincidence, both Adams, then 90, and Thomas Jefferson, then 82, died within 5 hours of one another on the Fourth of July 50 years later in 1826.

An online date calculator suggests that that first Independence Day, just as this year, fell on a Thursday. (Perhaps that means the Second Continental Congress and the colonists enjoyed a “long weekend”?) According to AAA NewsRoom,“More Americans than ever recorded by AAA, nearly 49 million, are making plans to honor the red, white and blue with an Independence Day getaway this year.” The vast majority will be traveling by car. If you and your family are among those hitting the road, consider some appropriately themed, educational take-alongs.

A logical choice is State of Confusion. Available as an iOS app, Android app, Mac app, and Windows download, this great little game is fun for both kids and grown-ups. Players can start with learning key facts about the 50 states, including state capitals, state abbreviations, state flowers, state birds, state flags, and state nicknames. It includes a USA puzzle—perfect for learning the state names, their location, and which states are next to each other. Then up the ante by selecting Quiz mode. Geography, memory, and visual perception skills get a workout while increasing knowledge of the U.S. and promoting social studies success for kids.

Another learning tool with a similar theme is the Travel the Great States workbook. Or stow away a selection of Little Busy books just in case the weather doesn’t cooperate and you need a fast alternative.

Whether gazing up at a night-time sky ablaze with pyrotechnic splendor, kicking back and making memories at home, or a mix of both, it’s a great time to remember with gratitude the price of freedom and independence.