Updated April 2023
Anzac Day as education
*Note: We follow the style suggested by the Department of Veterans Affairs, using ANZAC when referring to soldiers and Anzac for most other purposes.
Is Anzac Day something very young children can understand? Is it a valuable part of belonging, being, and becoming Australian?
Many early learning services will commemorate Anzac Day in some way this year. They might send adult and child representatives to a memorial service, laying a wreath. Or they might read picture books and tell stories about Australian soldiers and their service, or about the effect of war on families and children.
Educators we spoke with all agreed they marked Anzac Day in some way – but very sensitively around young children.
“We have two little girls whose dad is in the Navy, and while we’ve always acknowledged Anzac Day, this makes it even more important to us to respect the day together,” Sharon, a director from Sydney, told us.
“Sometimes you have to put your personal feelings on war aside because it is a national event and children will be exposed to it no matter what.
“I guess our job is to respect the past but teach empathy and compassion and when they are older they can look carefully at history with their own eyes.”
Carla, an early childhood teacher from Canberra, is married to an active serviceman and brings a personal perspective as well:
“I definitely believe preschool aged children should celebrate Anzac day,” she says.
“I’ve got two main reasons. Firstly, it’s a part of our history and culture and an important national day, and secondly, we need to respect the current and past serving members of our defence force who sacrifice so much to ensure our protection and freedom.
“As a parent of two young children whose dad is a serving member and often away for deployments, I find it’s really important for them and their classmates to understand why he does what he does, and why he can’t be there for so many special moments.”
Books on Anzac Day
War is not an easy topic for any of us to understand, let alone children who are not at school yet. How can we set the context of service and sacrifice without some explanation of the terrible times that brought those attributes to the nation’s attention?
There are many beautiful and sensitive children’s books that are suitable for under-fives. Here are some titles that educators suggested to Amplify. Do you have others you can recommend?
My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day, Catriona Hoy, Hachette Books.
Introduces very young children to ANZAC Day and why it holds such a place in our culture. The story is narrated by a girl who wakes early to attend dawn service, where her grandfather is marching.
Why are they marching, Daddy?, Di Burke, Anzac Day Commemoration Committee
An Anzac Day picture book for very young children, this story features the questions and answers between a boy and his father during an Anzac Day parade. the reason behind it and his father’s gentle explanation is simple and easy for young readers to follow.
Here's a great list of Anzac day themed picture books for children
Anzac Day activities
Make a wreath
In the lead up to Anzac day, and on the day, you could invite children to help find natural materials in the vicinity of the service and from around their homes and make a wreath together.
There’s nothing like a good reason to explore your local area, and most Australian children’s services will be within walking distance of one form of memorial or another.
You might use the tips in this article for Getting out the gate to arrange an outing to your nearest memorial plaque, cenotaph, or remembrance wall. It doesn’t have to focus on WW1 soldiers to get into the Anzac spirit.
Grandparents’ story time
Not all grandparents know a lot about Anzac Day, but most grandparents have some good "olden days" stories and could be asked to share what Anzac Day meant to them when they were children. Issue an invitation and see what happens!
Quality Area 6 collaborations
Another way to include children in the broader commemoration of Anzac Day is to follow the guidance in QA 6 of the National Quality Standard, and form a collaborative partnership in your community. Some early years services have partnerships with Returned Services Leagues (RSL) Clubs or similar veterans’ support organisations, and follow a program each year that connects children with active troops.
One such example was brought to our attention by Brad Copelin a former career soldier and Afghanistan veteran. Since leaving the army Brad has actively advocated for veterans’ welfare. He is an ambassador for RSL DefenceCare, a charity that helps veterans and their families in times of crisis.
Brad is also a father, and while his daughter was attending the southern Sydney service T4K, he began reading stories to the children in the lead up to Anzac Day.
“For the last three years the Engadine RSL sub-branch has sent care packages to Australian troops deployed overseas on operations,” Brad says.
“Each time we have been very well supported by our local community, which has included early learning services, schools and other community groups – it’s great that early learning has always supported the project.”
The partnership difference
Brad says that when you’re deployed, you often wonder if anyone knows where you are and what you are doing.
“That’s why these packs have a huge effect on morale. The letters and art work are always displayed on walls and notice boards. I can personally attest to the effect it has on morale.”
Twice yearly, Australia Post delivers care packages sent by the public to Defence personnel deployed overseas.
The number of packages received each year is a testament to the generous nature of supporting organisations and individuals in the Australian community. Check this web page for deadlines for ANZAC Day and Christmas Day and details of packaging specifications.
“The involvement of ELC gives a tangible connection between the children, the current generation of soldiers and the ANZAC legacy. It can also be mapped to EYLF, learning outcomes and meets NQS requirements set out by ACECQA.”
Expressions and thoughts of support can also be sent via email or as a 'postcard to the troops'.
Emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org are widely circulated to deployed personnel from all 3 services.
Postcards, often decorated and design by children with messages of goodwill, are proudly display by personnel. Postcards can be mailed to:
Messages to the Troops
39th Operational Support Battalion
Locked Bag 7005
Liverpool NSW 1871
Lastly, if you’re looking for resources there are plenty of educational sites relating to Anzac Day, although fewer with specific early years material.
What resources do you use? Tell us your story in the comments below!