For many families, a trip to Washington D.C. includes visiting the many beautiful memorials all around the city, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Often just called "The Wall," the memorial is a massive and long stone wall with the names of all the soldiers who died during the Vietnam War engraved on it. You can prepare your children for a visit to the memorial by engaging them in age-appropriate activities that can help them understand the war and honor the soldiers who died during their service in Vietnam.
Reading About the Vietnam War
Prepare your children for visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by reading age-appropriate books to your kids that sensitively discuss the Vietnam War and the memorial without getting too heavy. One book to consider, for kids ages 4 and older, is "The Wall," by Eve Bunting, which follows a little boy who visits the memorial with his father to search for his grandfather's name. Another book to check out, for kids ages 5 and older, is "Vietnam Veterans Memorial," by Tamara L. Britton, which provides a background on the events that led to the Vietnam War, the support for and protests against the war and the building of the memorial itself.
Talk to the children about how the wall honors all of the soldiers who never made it home from the Vietnam War for their service. For children old enough to write, have them write a letter to these soldiers, thanking them for their service and sacrifice for the country. When you visit the wall they can tuck the letter somewhere along the wall where people leave flowers and flags. Another idea is to have them create an acrostic poem to leave at the wall, using the word "hero," to describe the soldiers.
Activities at the Wall
Before visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, find out if you or close friends have any family members that died in the Vietnam War listed on the wall. Your kids can learn a little bit about these soldiers, perhaps through an elderly relative or family friend. When they go to the wall, have your kids search for the names, then use pencil and paper to make a paper rubbing of each one. Your kids can take the rubbings home, frame them and give them to the family member or friend connected to that soldier. Another idea, if you don't know of anyone connected to a soldier listed on the wall, is to make a rubbing of random names that your children pick. You can later look the soldiers up on the memorial's website and learn a little bit about who they were and where they came from.
Other Vietnam Sites
Take the opportunity of being in Washington, D.C. to visit other sites in the area with memorials or tributes to the Vietnam War. The Three Soldiers statue, adjacent to the wall, represents Army and Marine soldiers that serviced in the war. You should also stop by the Vietnam Women's Memorial, located close to the south end of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall. The statue honors the women who served in the war, the majority caring for wounded soldiers. You can also take the kids to the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., which includes artifacts from the Vietnam War in its Americans at War exhibit.