This year, a lot of readers and Facebook fans and even some of our own team have mentioned that they feel different about July 4th this year. You too? You’re not alone. In 2018, Gallup released a poll stating that fewer people feel proud to be an American this year. This year, in 2020, that number fell to a record low, with national pride down by every race, in every party.

There has been so much chaos, such drastic change in America’s standing from around the world, and so many more people aware — maybe for the first time — that “America” treats us all wildly differently based on the color of our skin.  So it’s not entirely surprising that you might be looking for different ways to spend July 4 than you might have when you were a kid.

This post has been updated for 2020

And then, there are plenty of people with reasons they don’t celebrate the 4th at all, as in this really thoughtful piece by Margaret e Jacobsen on Romper. Or those for whom Juneteenth is really the Independence Day Celebration to honor each summer.

We can’t give you the right or wrong answer, and yours may even be somewhere in the middle.

So for those of you having the traditional backyard barbecue, making red white and blue treats with the kids, or photographing fireworks, we’ve got you covered.

For those of you looking for alternative ways to celebrate the 4th, we suggest finding a way to honor the spirit of America — the best of what it can be when we all contribute and we all have the chance to succeed and to be free. After all, it’s called Independence Day,.

But that’s not an end point. It’s a beginning of this American experiment that we’re still working to improve upon to this day — maybe even harder than ever before.

With that, maybe one of these alternative July 4th ideas will feel right for you.

– Kate and Liz 

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1. Volunteer

The true spirit of America to us has always been about our willingness to love, help, and serve others, lifting up those in need. Experience this with your kids by finding a way to volunteer in your community together. Since it’s the 4th, maybe you could bake some homemade treats for your local fire station or front-line hospital workers in your community; or to raise money for a worthy cause that can help more people have access to the “American dream” that we’ve all been promised.

You can place flags at a veteran’s cemetery. You can even just walk a dog in the heat for an elderly neighbor who would appreciate the kindness, or help someone pick up groceries who’s still avoiding the stores.

We suggest asking your kids what they’d like to do. You may be surprised at the creative ideas they come up with.


2. Contact your representatives about an issue important to you

One of the freedoms we’re celebrating is our First Amendment rights, so take this opportunity to teach the kids how  how they can write a letter to the president, or use an app to easily contact your Senator or elected Member of Congress with a message. Let them know about an issue you care about (we know it’s hard to narrow it down these days), and encourage them to fight for it as Congress goes back into session after the holiday.

You can also thank those who are already standing up for the issues and policies you value — they need the encouragement too!

Related: A list of excellent articles + analyses to help parents discuss “This is America” with our kids.


3. Make something for someone else

Alternate 4th of July celebration ideas: Make something! Like this DIY mosaic flag craft at Crafts by Amanda

DIY Mosaic flag | Crafts by Amanda

My kids love a good holiday craft, and we’ve found some fantastic ones themed around July 4th over the years. Whether you’re looking for easy July 4th crafts for kids of all ages, fun July 4th crafts for older kids (ie, no finger-painting), or some July 4th crafts parents can get involved making too we’ve got you covered.

To make it more special — create something especially for someone else, like a local children’s hospital, senior center, a school providing free lunches this summer, or a veteran’s service facility. We bet they’d appreciate it, a lot.

PS We found this terrific list of Black-owned craft suppliers from Black Girls Craft, should you be looking for an alternative way to freshen up those craft supplies for summer.

Related: 10 festive (but easy) 4th of July crafts and activities for kids of all ages


4. Record your own family history and immigration story

Alternate 4th of July celebration ideas: Record your family history with the StoryCorps app

Every family has a history worth preserving, and unless you’re a Native American, your family has a coming-to-America story that should be a part of it. If you’re lucky enough to have grandparents or great-grandparents around, connect them with the kids (if only via FaceTime) to collect and record some favorite stories.

NPR’s StoryCorps project can walk you through ways to record a digital narrative (their app shown above), or you can buy a book like My Life Story So Far to record it by hand.


5. Donate to a cause you believe in

Surprise your kids with $5, $10, $20 — or hey, whatever you can afford — and let them choose a charity they love to send it to. (Or, have them do something around the house to earn that money, which can impart a double lesson.)

-We love charities like Donors Choose that support kids and education.
-You can send a gift to a US child in need through Daymaker. Find a top-rated military family charity with this list.
-Support funds for front-line medical workers, or find a local food bank to help individuals most impacted by Covid-19.
-Support Dreamers/DACA recipients through the National Immigration Law Center.
-Donate to one of these 142 charities supporting Black lives and communities of color on this comprehensive list from the editors of NY Magazine.

It may even become an amazing annual 4th of July tradition for your family.


6. Listen to the Hamilton Soundtrack…or watch the stage performance streaming!

Not sure about you, but listening always brings out the young, scrappy and hungry in us, and makes us want to fight for the best America we can make it. Plus, our kids can sing eeeevery single word. The Hamilton mix tapes are pretty amazing too.]

And July 3, 2020, is the day so many of us have been waiting for: The Hamilton stage production  is airing on Disney Plus, skipping a delayed theatrical release. Original cast!  Whoo!

Definitely worth subscribing, or at least taking advantage of that free 30-day trial membership.


7. Read a favorite children’s book celebrating the America you love

Alternate 4th of July celebration ideas: Read a book celebrating America, like Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

There’s a lot that’s pretty amazing about our country, and there are some incredible books worth picking up to read with your kids on July 4th. A few suggestions:

-Try a children’s biography of a figure in American history you want to learn more about together, like Frederick Douglass or Amelia Earhart. Or try Ken Burns’s educational (but fun) Grover Cleveland Again! which helps you discover juicy details about all of the US presidents.

-Dave Eggers’s inspirational Her Right Foot about the creation of the Statue of Liberty (above) may make you cry — Kate did when she read it to her son’s first grade class.

Henry's Freedom Box - Black History Month books for kids

-We have a list of terrific Black history books for kids, from Caldecott Honor book Henry’s Freedom Box: The True Story of the Underground Railroad to Brick By Brick, a Corretta Scott King Award winner about slaves building the White House.

Books about the immigrant experience are also a great way to discuss with kids how America means different things to different people, all from different places — and how immigrants are one of the things that makes America special.

Really, children’s book options for the 4th of July are endless; it doesn’t even have to be about the Revolutionary War. Just reading about some of the great change-makers who have become part of  American history can make you feel really good about the endless potential of regular people.

8. Commit to registering people to vote

Is anything more American than making sure that every person who can vote, does? Consider plugging your zip code into the National Voter Registration Day website, and find a voter registration event near you this year that needs volunteers or other support. It’s a big election year, if you haven’t heard.

9. Visit a museum or US National Park

Note: With 2020 Covid restrictions, please check with institutions first and see if they’re open or offering alternative programming.

Surprisingly, tons of museums are open on July 4 — In NYC alone, you can visit the Intrepid Air, Sea & Space Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian, The New York Historical Society, and the Museum of the City of New York, which is currently exhibiting Beyond Suffrage: A Century of Women in Politics in New York. Pretty cool for an alternative July 4th activity, right?

And of course there’s always the American artists in city art museums — like MoMA’s impressive collection, which includes Jasper Johns’s 1954-55 Flag, shown photographed at top.

If you live near one of our National Parks or History Sites (and you may be surprised how close one is!), go visit and give it some support. Take a hike. View a waterfall. See a historic monument in person. And just have some fresh air, offline fun together.

10. Cheer on the vets in your local parade

If your town or community hosts an annual parade, sure it’s fun to wave to the local Scout troops or your kids’ friends in the marching band. But one of the best parts of parades for a lot of us, is getting to cheer (from safe social distances, wearing masks!) for the veterans who served our country so honorably. It’s especially poignant when WWII vets pass by — and a great reminder that there’s a lot here worth fighting for.

Photo at top: Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash