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American War for Independence Battles Lesson for Kids

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Hands-on American History: American War for Independence Battles Lesson in 45 Minutes

Hands-on American History: American War for Independence Battles Lesson in 45 Minutes

This is the 9th lesson in a series of 27 hands-on lessons covering American History through 1865. This lesson focuses on the major battles of the American War for Independence. I used this plan while teaching a 45 minute history class for children in Kindergarten, 1st, & 2nd grades. Each lesson includes a biography report, history notebook page, history song, our favorite children's books, a joke, & a variety of hands-on activities (cooking, painting, dramatizations, etc.) to make each lesson engaging & memorable. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, homeschool, after-school program, or co-op!

Student biography presentation on Betsy Ross

Student biography presentation on Betsy Ross

Student Biography Presentation: Betsy Ross

1. Student biography presentation on Betsy Ross

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze

Review & Introduction to Battle of Trenton

2. Review: Where did the Pilgrims settle? (Plymouth, Massachusetts) What war did we learn about that was fought between English/British & French? (French & Indian War) What was the name of the king of England during this time? (King George III) Who said, "Give me liberty or give me death"? (Patrick Henry) What 2 events did we learn about that happened in Boston? (Boston Massacre & Boston Tea Party) Who is famous for warning the colonists that the redcoats were coming? (Paul Revere) What was one of the first battles fought? (Battle of Lexington & Concord) What do with call the colonists who had to be ready to fight at a moment’s notice? (Minutemen) What is the famous “letter”/document that Thomas Jefferson wrote? (Declaration of Independence) What did it say? (That America would no longer be ruled by England)

3. Open your notebooks to your 13 Colonies map. Together sing 13 Colonies Song (Tune: Yankee Doodle) while pointing to each colony on your map.

New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut
New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, little Delaware…
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina
South Carolina, Georgia, thirteen colonies!

4. Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8 says, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:…a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace." The American colonists had tried to keep peace for sometime, but now some of them decided it was time for war.

5. Show the children Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze & quickly ask these questions based on the ones from p. 21 in the Picturing America Teacher's Manual:

  • Where is Washington's white horse? the branch floating in the water? the American flag?
  • How did the artist emphasize Washington & the flag? (Surrounds them with white light like a halo)
  • What bright color is included? (red)
  • Where is the only place you can see red? (Washington's boat)
  • Why do you think the artist used red only in Washington's boat? (It brings attention to Washington)
  • What is the weather like?
  • How do you think those men feel?
  • How do you think those men will feel when they reach the other bank?

You will need:

  • a copy of the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze (from a poster, book, or online)

6. Read pp. 38-41 from George vs. George by Rosalyn Schanzer about the Battle of Trenton.

You will need:

  • George vs. George by Rosalyn Schanzer or other book that discusses the Battle of Trenton
Reenacting Crossing of the Delaware & Battle of Trenton

Reenacting Crossing of the Delaware & Battle of Trenton

Reenacting Crossing of Delaware & Battle of Trenton

6. Reenact Crossing of Delaware & Battle of Trenton.

  • Pass out tricorn hats & toy weapons (toy rifles, foam swords, &/or sticks) to the boys. They will be the American Continental Army.
  • Pass out red tops (jackets, fleeces, etc.) to each girl. They get to be the British side today. Actually, they're going be Hessians, who were German soldiers that the British hired to fight for them.
  • The Hessians (girls) will sit in the corner. It's Christmas, so they're having a Christmas party. Lay out a few Christmas gifts or gift bags (that are just there for decorations). Have the girls sing part of a Christmas song & then pretend to fall asleep.
  • Meanwhile, across the Delaware River, on the other side of the room, George Washington and his men (the boys) climb into a "boat"(chairs) amid a snowstorm and quietly sail across the Delaware River. [I threw some paper balls on them so they could experience "snow." Have the children pretend to row their boat.]
  • The Continental Army gets out of their boats (off the chairs) & quietly sneaks into the Hessian camp and surrounds the Hessian soldiers (girls).
  • Tell one of the girls yell, "Feind" (German for "enemy") and then have all the Hessians (girls) hold up their arms to surrender.
  • Collect the weapons & Christmas decorations but have the children remain dressed as they return to their seats.

You will need:

  • a red top (jackets, fleeces, etc.) for each girl
  • a hat (I used foam pirate hats from the Dollar Tree) for each boy
  • a weapon (toy rifle, foam sword, stick, & or just a picture of one of a piece of paper) for each boy
  • a few Christmas decorations (such as some Christmas gift bags)
British General Burgoyne handing over his sword to General Gates during the reenactment of the Battle of Saratoga

British General Burgoyne handing over his sword to General Gates during the reenactment of the Battle of Saratoga

Battle of Saratoga

6. The Battle of Trenton was a quick win for the /American/Continental Army & convinced many soldiers they should stay in the army rather than give up & go home. George Washington, who was fighting in New Jersey & Pennsylvania, was considered a hero, but he wasn't the only hero in the American War for Independence. Another big battle was the Battle of Saratoga in New York, & during that battle, it was Benedict Arnold who proved to be the hero.

7. Read about the Battle of Saratoga on p. 43 in George vs. George by Rosalyn Schanzer.

8. Reenact Battle of Saratoga.

  • Tell the children that there was a fort at Saratoga. Our fort will be the table, so the boys will stay under the table.
  • Return the weapons back to the boys.
  • Fort Saratoga in New York had 2 American Generals: General Horatio Gates was the one who was in charge. He wore glasses. [Put glasses on the child playing Thomas Gates.] He was very cautious. People called him “Granny Gates” because of his glasses and how careful he was. When the British army came to attack Fort Saratoga, General Gates told the Continental army, “Stay in the fort!” [Have the child played General Gates tell the boys, "Stay in the fort!]
  • Under General Gates’ command was General Benedict Arnold. Benedict Arnold was reckless, brave,...& a little crazy. [Give Benedict Arnold a toy sword.] Benedict Arnold thought they should leave the fort, hide in the forest, and fight from the forest. He told the men, “Let’s go out of the fort and hide in the forest and fight from there!” He told General Gates, “Let’s go out of the fort! Let’s go to the forest! Let’s fight while hiding in the forest!
  • General Gates finally said, “I don’t want to, but okay.” [Have the boys leave from under the table & hide behind some chairs.]
  • Meanwhile, the British army under General Burgoyne had been planning on wheeling their cannons up to the fort and blasting down the walks of the fort. [Give General Burgoyne (a girl) a toy sword.] Have the child playing General Burgoyne say, “Let’s blast down the fort walls!” [Hand a girl a toy cannon if you have one or simply hand them a piece of paper with a picture of a cannon on it.]
  • Were the American soldiers in the fort? No, they weren’t! Where were they? They were hiding in the forest!
  • As the British approached the fort, the Continental/American Army fired at them. They fired back and forth at each other. As usual, Brave Benedict Arnold was in the front of the fight along with all the other soldiers.
  • General Gates thought Benedict Arnold was too crazy, so he told Benedict Arnold, “Stop fighting and go to your tent!” [Have Benedict Arnold go back under the table.] Benedict Arnold hung his head and was sad. He had to go back to his tent and not fight, but he wanted to fight. Finally he decided to ignore General Gate’s decision. He jumped on his white horse [use a stick horse], grabbed his sword, and shouted, “Victory or death!”
  • The Continental soldiers were so encouraged by Benedict Arnold’s return, they fought even harder. Benedict Arnold was shot in the leg and fell off his horse, but he continued to fight! The Continental Army fought so hard that the British surrendered! British General Burgoyne handed over his sword to General Gates as a sign that the Americans had won this battle. [Have the child playing General Burgoyne give his sword to the child playing General Gates.]
  • Do you think General Gates thanked Benedict Arnold? No, he did not! He was mad that Benedict Arnold had disobeyed and come out of his tent. That made Benedict Arnold sad and mad. We’ll learn more about Benedict Arnold later.
  • The Battle of Saratoga is very important because it showed French leaders that Americans might be able to win their freedom from England. France finally agreed to send soldiers & weapons to help the Americans win.

You will need:

  • red tops, hats, & weapons used in the Battle of Trenton Reenactment
  • at least 3 foam swords of pictures of swords
  • toy glasses (or even sunglasses with the lenses popped out)
  • a toy cannon or a piece of paper with a picture of a cannon
  • a stick horse (optional)
Painting the first flag adopted by the Continental Congress

Painting the first flag adopted by the Continental Congress

America's First Flag & Review

9. Since America was now its own country, they needed their own flag.

  • [Show a picture of Betsy Ross.] Some people think Betsy Ross might have sewn the first flag.
  • [Show a picture of the flag.] What did the first flag look like? How many stars are there? (13) Why do you think there were 13? What do you think they represent? (13 colonies) What shape are they in? (13 to show all the colonies were equal) What color is behind the stars? (blue) What color are the stripes? (red & white) Let's count how many stripes there are.

You will need:

  • a picture of Betsy Ross
  • a picture of the original flag adopted by the Continental Congress

10. Lead the children in painting the first flag adopted by the Continental Congress.

  • Allow children to put on old t-shirts or smocks to protect their clothing.
  • Cover the table with newspaper or a plastic table cover.
  • I modeled for them step by step on what to paint. Some of the children followed my directions & some of them didn't.
  • Tip: I had the children paint the flag on large pieces of paper. If I could do it again, I would have had them paint them on white cardstock the size of computer paper so that they could easily fit in their history notebooks.

You will need for each child:

  • a paintbrushes
  • white heavy paper (like cardstock)
  • smocks/old t-shirts to protect clothing (I had parents bring them from home & brought in a few extras.)
  • blue, red, & white poster board/tempera/finger paint

You will also need:

  • something to cover the table (newspaper or plastic table cloth)
  • small disposable plates or bowls to hold the paint
  • plastic shoe box bin with water in it for paint brushes after you're finished (optional)

11. Review: What is the name of the river that General George Washington and his troops crossed on Christmas Eve? (Delaware River) Was the Hessian army, who was on the side of the British, expecting George Washington and his troops during the Battle of Trenton? (No) Who won the Battle of Trenton? (the Americans) During the Battle of Saratoga, who was the main American General who was very careful? (General "Granny" Gage) Who was the brave and wild general who was 2nd in command? (Benedict Arnold) Who won at the Battle of Saratoga? (The Americans) Which country helped America after America won at the Battle of Saratoga? (France) Who do some people say sewed the first American flag? (Betty Ross) How many stars and stripes did it have on it? (13) What did each star and strip represent? (each colony)

12. Assign next week's biography presentation on Benjamin Franklin.

We read through a huge stack of children's picture books, and these were our favorites (not including the book used in the lesson):

  • When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots by Lynne Cheney
  • Crossing The Delaware: A History In Many Voices by Louise Peacock
  • Benedict Arnold: American Hero and Traitor (Graphic Biographies) by Michael Burgan
  • Revolutionary Rogues: John André and Benedict Arnold by Selene Castrovilla
  • Betsy Ross and the American Flag (Graphic History) by Kay Melchisedech
  • Red, White, and Blue (Penguin Young Readers, Level 3) by John Herman
  • Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette by Selene Castrovilla

Liberty Kids: Across the Delaware

Liberty Kids: Battle of Saratoga: The Hessians Are Coming

Native Americans & Columbus Lesson
Jamestown Lesson
Pilgrims Lesson
Thirteen Colonies Lesson
French and Indian War Lesson
Colonial Period & Revolution Rumblings Lesson
Boston Massacre & Boston Tea Party Lesson
First Shots & Declaration of Independence Lesson
American War for Independence Battles Lesson
Valley Forge & Battle of Yorktown Lesson
American Literature Lesson & American War for Independence Review
Colonial Christmas Party
Constitution Lesson
Three Branches of Government Lesson
President George Washington Lesson
Louisiana Purchase Lesson
War of 1812 Lesson
Monroe Doctrine Lesson
Trail of Tears Lesson
Oregon Trail & Battle of Alamo Lesson
California Gold Rush & Pony Express Lesson
American Industrial Revolution Lesson
Underground Railroad Lesson
Abolitionists & Women Suffragists Lesson
Civil War: The Confederate States & Abraham Lincoln Lesson
Civil War Battles Lesson
Civil War Party & End of Year Review Game
Fun, Free Hands-on Unit Studies (My Lessons in All Subjects)

© 2018 Shannon