By Randi Cairns
We ask a lot of our military kids. They have to adapt quickly, handle change well, and build a new community for themselves from one military move to the next. They navigate being kids while a parent or loved one serves our country, often away from home. April is designated as Month of the Military Child, a time to pause and recognize the service and sacrifices of military kids of all ages. Here are some thoughts on how to celebrate military kids each month of the year.
Month of the Military Child is an official month of observance in the United States that occurs each year in April. We wear purple. We decorate our schools with flags and posters. We highlight our military students and invite them to share their stories. We honor their contributions. Collectively, we do a pretty good job of making military-connected students in our schools and communities feel seen and appreciated. But as the month ends, let’s not let awareness fade of the unique challenges faced and contributions made by our youngest military family members.
As we remember our fallen heroes, it’s important that we be mindful of our young survivors too. Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) offers care to anyone grieving the loss of a military loved one. If you know a military child who has experienced this kind of loss, TAPS Good Grief Camps are safe spaces for military children along their healing journey. TAPS military mentors (serving military members and veterans) and legacy mentors (survivors who have graduated from Good Grief Camp) are buddies to these children and remind them they are still important to the military (and us all). Learn more about how you can help TAPS serve grieving military children.
Peak summer PCS season is well underway. According to Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Global Logistics Support Household Goods Program Analyst Deloma Miley, it is estimated that more than 65% of military moves occur each year from mid-May through August 31st.
It’s the Season of Leaving. This means that military children at home and abroad are once again packing up life as they know it and making plans to start again someplace new. Make end of school year celebrations a time to recognize the military-connected students in your classroom, especially those who may not be in your school district at the start of the next school year. Give them an opportunity to share with their classmates where they’re headed (if they’re permitted to divulge that information) and what they’re looking forward to in their new location. Equally important, give their peers the chance to say goodbye and let them know how much they’ll be missed!
Freedom isn’t free and military children know that better than most folks. As we celebrate our nation’s independence, let’s also remember the children who have missed out on birthdays, holidays, and other important milestones while their military family member has been away in service.
In many parts of the country, there’s no better way to start off the holiday weekend than with a walkathon or marathon. Grab your kids, family, friends, and neighbors and walk, skip, run, or dance in honor of the special military children in your life.
If you’re the parent or guardian of a military-connected student and you haven’t yet done so, now is a good time to put together an education binder to help with their transition to a new school. This binder should include information and documentation such as birth certificate, immunization records, unofficial transcripts, and teacher notes.
If you’re an educator, ask for an education binder to help integrate new students into your classroom. As the year progresses, your input will be invaluable for maintaining the binder for the duration of the school year and beyond as these students head off for new school placements at their next duty station.
Make time to welcome new military-connected students in your classroom. Have them point out on a map where their military life has taken them. Invite them to talk about their experiences as a military child. Set up a buddy system with other students in the class. Let these newest members of your school know you’re an adult who’s here to support them.
October 26 is Day of the Deployed. That makes this month a perfect time to have students in your classroom put together care packages for deployed service members. If one or more students at your school have a loved one deployed, consider having your class or school adopt their unit. If possible, personalize the packages with special items, such as artwork and handwritten notes from your students.
Read books about kids going through a deployment. Talk about what it feels like to miss someone and ways to keep in touch when you’re apart from someone you care about. All students can participate in this kind of discussion and share their experiences of missing loved ones.
November is Military Family Appreciation Month, a time to recognize all military family members. Special days this month include Veterans Day, honoring US military veterans, and Thanksgiving, a time for sharing our gratitude. In the classroom, consider recognizing the contributions of service members and their families by reading stories about their service, sacrifices, and lifestyle. Several good children’s books about military life can serve as a conversation starter.
If it’s your family’s tradition to share things you’re grateful for at Thanksgiving, include military members and their families who often spend holidays apart while their loved ones serve. Better yet, if you know of a family separated from their military loved one for the holiday, invite them to join your celebration!
Put together a special treat for a military child you know over the winter holidays. Bake some cookies. Make a gift bag with fun stickers, puzzles, games, and candy. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive; it just needs to come from the heart.
Want to do more? There are many organizations that coordinate Adopt a Family programs for military families. Find out what they need and how you can support their mission.
As you’re making your New Year resolutions, consider how you can improve your understanding of and support for military-connected students. Perhaps you’ll make this the year that your school district takes advantage of professional development opportunities through the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC). MCEC trains professionals to address the unique challenges facing military children. They also provide resources for parents and guardians. Resolve to support military kids year round.
This is a month to share the love. If you’re an educator, work with your class to make handmade cards to be delivered to a local veteran’s home or mailed to service members overseas. Remember to make Valentine’s Day cards for the special military kids in your life!
Bonus activity: The Operation Purple Camp application window opens mid-February. This well-loved and highly regarded program of the National Military Family Association provides free weeklong, in-person, overnight summer camps for military-connected kids across the US. Spots fill up quickly, so you’ll want to register sooner rather than later.
In March we celebrate National Reading Month as well as National Medal of Honor Day, a day to recognize the heroism and sacrifice of Medal of Honor recipients. This is a great opportunity to have your class read about military heroes and discuss what it means to be a hero and to sacrifice for your country. The military-connected students in your class can talk about their own loved one’s service and what it has meant for them and their lives. Students can create their own badges of honor and exchange them with fellow students who exhibit those heroic traits.
The Medal of Honor Character Development Program is a free resource that teaches students courage, commitment, integrity, sacrifice, citizenship, and patriotism through lessons developed by teachers for teachers.
There are many more ways to recognize and incorporate military-connected students into celebrations all year. The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3) has created a list of ways to celebrate our youngest heroes to spark your creativity during the Month of the Military Child and beyond.
Randi Cairns is a mom of military teens, a leader in the military spouse community, coauthor of Stories Around the Table: Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life, and associate publisher at Elva Resa Publishing.
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