What to Tell Your Kids on Independence Day About History & Fireworks

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With Independence Day coming up, your kids are probably getting excited to celebrate with family gatherings and fireworks. However, it's good for them to know the historical side of the holiday, too. This post provides some great information to tell your kids about the history of Independence Day as well as fireworks.

The 4th of July

As Independence Day - the 4th of July - approaches, you may be busy planning barbecues or deciding which fireworks show(s) to attend with your kids. And while these things are fun, they often don't address the true reason behind the holiday - the independence of our country from Great Britain. This year on the 4th of July, why not take a little time to educate your kids about the origins of this patriotic holiday and those fireworks that they love to see lighting up the night sky?


A Historical Look at Independence Day

Although the history of our country and the process it took to become free and independent is quite lengthy and detailed, we're going to stick to kid-friendly facts for this post. Let's look at the history of Independence Day in an easy-to-follow, chronological manner.

The Lead Up

Before Independence Day came to be, there were 13 colonies in North America that were being ruled by Great Britain's king, King George III. You could explain to your kids that the colonies were similar to states nowadays, except that they belonged to a country all the way across the ocean. The residents of the 13 colonies were upset because they felt King George was treating them poorly; they had no say in their government, were being taxed unfairly, and wanted things to change.

In September of 1774, the people living in the colonies had enough and wanted their voices to be heard. Delegates (people chosen to represent the colonies) from 12 of the 13 colonies had an important meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to talk about how they could become stronger and resist Great Britain's harsh control. This special meeting is known as the First Continental Congress. The delegates wanted King George to stop treating and taxing the people of the colonies unfairly, but he wouldn't agree.

The Revolutionary War

The disagreement between the delegates and King George led to a war known as the American Revolution, or the Revolutionary War. British soldiers came to Lexington, New Hampshire, on April 19, 1775, to arrest a couple of the delegates and take away weapons, but it was too late. The night before, three men - Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott - had already warned colonial soldiers that the British were coming to attack, which gave them time to prepare.

In June of 1776, the war was still going strong, and the colonies were ready to become a new country and free from Britain's rule. A special document called the Declaration of Independence was written by colonial delegates to let everyone, including King George, know that the colonies were no longer going to be a part of Great Britain.


Freedom at Last

Although there were future battles and the war lasted until 1783, the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, and the 13 colonies declared their independence from British rule. This is where 'Independence Day' and the '4th of July' came from! In the beginning, not everyone celebrated the holiday since the country was so new. But by 1870, when it became an official holiday, it had become much more popular.

Fireworks on the 4th


Your kids (and yourself!) might be wondering how fireworks became such a huge part of the 4th of July. Well, it turns out that John Adams, one of our country's founding fathers and co-authors of the Declaration of Independence, predicted that Independence Day would be celebrated for years to come with 'Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.'

At first, fireworks weren't used a whole lot because they were expensive and difficult to operate. By about 1784, there were fireworks available that only came in colors of orange and white. In the 1830s, scientists discovered that they could add different substances to make the fireworks turn various colors. From there, fireworks kept growing in popularity, and today, there are thousands of 4th of July fireworks shows all over the United States.


How They Work

It's also interesting to know how fireworks work, so let's take a quick look at their mechanism of action.

The main, outer part of a firework is the shell. This solid container holds several parts that work together to make a firework do its job. Inside the shell is a gunpowder-filled charge, which is a little container that is attached to the fuse (the little string that gets lit). When the fuse is lit, the spark gets to the charge first, and that sends the firework up into the air. Also inside the shell are tiny bits of different substances that determine which color the firework will be. Different substances produce different colors, and the bigger the shell, the bigger and brighter the explosion.

Always stress to your kids how important it is to be safe around fireworks. Although they are fun to use and a joy to see, fireworks can be very dangerous when used without caution. To learn more about how to stay safe, check out the tips provided by the National Fire Protection Association.


Happy 4th of July!

Now that we've covered some kid-level basics of Independence Day, you should be prepared to share the information with your kids. They will probably be very happy to know exactly how the 4th of July began and how fireworks became a part of it. If you'd like to add any thoughts or comments about the holiday or fireworks, you're invited to do so below. Enjoy the 4th with your family!

By Erin Riskey
June 2017
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