Memorial Day marks the start of three months of sunshine, barbecues, vacation and more — but Memorial Day is so much more than the start of summer and a more easy-breezy lifestyle. It’s also a day is actually a day set aside to honor those who have died while serving in the armed forces of the United States.
Initially called “Decoration Day” when it was first established in 1868 as a day to mark the graves of Civil War soldiers, Memorial Day has since expanded. The holiday now honors all members of the armed services who died during wartime.
If, in addition to the picnics and parties, you want to do something more this year to remember those who served — and died — for the cause of freedom, try these family crafts. Not only will you have new heirlooms for your home, but you’ll have an opportunity to introduce to your kids the real reason the last Monday in May is a national holiday.
1. DIY Army wreath
Wreaths for all occasions are popular throughout the year, so why not a Memorial Day wreath, too? Such a decoration makes a great family project, because it includes tasks for big and little hands.
The circle shape of the wreath symbolizes eternity, with no beginning or end. By laying and hanging wreaths we continue the Memorial Day tradition, which in itself becomes part of an everlasting circle. Your wreath may well become a family heirloom to be cherished each time it is taken out to adorn your home, a poignant reminder of the nature of self-sacrifice in the ongoing battle for our freedoms.
The wreath is made by pinning squares of fabric to a store-bought foam wreath. Adults and kids can work together to keep little fingers from being pricked by pins: kids can fold the fabric squares while an adult pins them to the wreath form. With every placement of a piece of fabric, adults have the opportunity to discuss with children the reason we celebrate Memorial Day.
A Memorial Day wreath can be made even more special when it’s customized to honor veteran family members. You can switch out the fabrics to represent different branches of the military or different theaters of battle either by cutting up a surplus military uniform or using purchased fabrics in different colors to represent the uniforms. For instance, you can use camouflage fabric to represent the U.S. Army combat uniform, or green and khaki for the service uniform of the U.S. Marine Corps. A simple internet search will tell you the colors or color combinations of the uniforms of the different military branches.
This wreath can also be used on Veteran’s Day, November 11th, the day we honor all military veterans in appreciation of their service. While making this wreath with children, you can introduce the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. You could also make a detachable poppy to add to the wreath when you display it for Veteran’s Day.
2. Popsicle stick flags
The American flag is the iconic symbol of freedom. Its clean and bold design lends itself well to crafts because of its bright contrasting colors and simple shapes, as well as the spirit of what they represent. Kids and adults alike will love this craft not only for the fun they have making it together, but also for the many ways it can be used.
This popsicle stick flag craft is particularly fun for kids because of the variety of materials: wood, paint, glue and paper. Kids have so much fun with the different tactile experiences, there’s no time to get bored. Developing artistic, dexterous and cognitive processing skills is a bonus.
When the flags are finished, they can be used and reused in a variety of ways. Use them as coasters and trivets, or paint names on them to use as placeholders. Try using them to decorate your flower beds and walkways, harkening back to the origins of Memorial Day: hot-glue them to some dowels and place the opposite ends into the ground.
Ginger, from Ginger Snap Crafts, has transformed hers into a garland for the mantel. She ties coordinating ribbons between the flags to add color and texture. You can customize your garland by adding whatever suits your theme: photos of family members enjoying fireworks or patriotically-themed picnics, or homemade paper fireworks.
These flags are so easy, versatile and fun to make, don’t be surprised if the whole family gets involved. You’re going to want a lot of them to decorate every corner of your home!
3. Patriotic sun catcher
Another craft that captures the elements and symbolism of the American flag is a sun catcher. Just the idea of “catching” the sun is mesmerizing; now imagine that sun casting the bold colors of our country around your home, spreading the light of freedom. Like wind chimes, sun catchers transform nature from an physical event to a emotion and beauty. As a craft project, patriotic sun catchers are quick and easy for adults and kids alike, yet still allow for original artistic expression.
Using clear contact paper as the canvas sun catchers are low mess, less cleanup and less frustration for little ones. No glue is needed! No young fingers getting messy, sticky or tacky, and no glue where it shouldn’t be. Because children rip the pieces of tissue paper, no scissors are needed either! Don’t be surprised if your kids stay at the project longer. They may even want to make several sun catchers!
Katie, from A Little Pinch of Perfect, made her sun catchers the size of a sheet of cardstock, but you can cut your sun catcher frames into any size to fit any window in the house. Try cutting all different shapes and sizes from different color cardstock to create truly unique works of art.
You don’t have to limit this project to one use, either. If you seal the project with another sheet of contact paper on the back side, you can reuse the sun catcher in other locations, or at other times of the year. Make a small rectangular frame, punch a hole in the top, add a fringed tassel and use it as a bookmark. Construct a larger frame and have each family member create his or her own placemat, or use the placemats under your pet bowls to catch spills. The possibilities are endless when you use your imagination!
4. Popsicle stick Uncle Sam kid craft
Need another inexpensive craft project? Popsicle sticks remain one of the most versatile craft supplies, so here’s another popsicle stick craft. This one depicts Uncle Sam.
Like the American flag, Uncle Sam has become an iconic representation of America. “Uncle Sam” originated from an American businessman named Samuel Wilson who, during the War of 1812, supplied barrels of beef to the U.S. Army. Seeing the barrels marked “U.S.” inspired Wilson to come up with the name “Uncle Sam.”
Recognized by his tall hat, white beard and, of course, the red, white and blue, Uncle Sam is easy to recreate with paint and paper on popsicle sticks. The hat is made by painting the popsicle sticks alternately red and white, a nod to the stripes that appear on the American flag. His beard is made by tracing the hands of a child onto white cardstock, cutting them out and gluing them upside down on Uncle Sam’s beard.
The googly eyes used on this project really add a touch of whimsy. Try varying the eye size for different effects. To change up the beard effects, you could glue cotton balls onto the bottom of Uncle Sam’s face, or cut a beard shape out of fiberfill/batting.
Once complete, you can leave your uncles on display right through Flag Day on June 14th, and Independence Day on the 4th of July.
Thinking (way) ahead, it’s not much of a stretch to reimagine this craft as a popsicle stick Santa Claus! Paint the hat area all red and the brim white instead of blue. Voila — instant Santa!
5. Patriotic candle holder
A patriotic candle holder is another inexpensive craft that is perfect for kids and adults. Not only are they quick, easy and useful, but they are fun to make because the design possibilities are nearly endless. Pick up several glass candleholders at the dollar store and have fun decorating them any way you like. You may end up creating sets for every holiday and occasion.
For this patriotic version, you need clear votive candle holders, red and blue tissue paper, paint brushes and Mod Podge decoupage adhesive. If you don’t have Mod Podge, you can make your own: mix equal parts white craft glue, such as Elmer’s, and water. Stir well and store in an airtight container. (You can even add some glitter to your homemade adhesive!)
The great thing about decoupage projects is that children (and adults) don’t have to worry about precision. They can just slap that Mod Podge all over the candleholder and then place their tissue paper cutouts where ever they like. Apply another coat right on top of the whole thing.
If your children are very young, cut out the shapes for them ahead of time. Jenny, from My Little Me, used small red and blue circles, but any shapes, sizes and colors will do. Stars and stripes, for example, continue the patriotic theme.
Kids love seeing their projects glow, and you can use real or battery operated candles in these cups. Several candle holders easily transform into centerpieces for your Memorial Day party tables; they are especially useful in the evening during an outside party as they provide a bit of beauty and light for your guests. Just remember to blow out or turn off the candles when you are finished with them!