Children on the Home Front

by Heather E. Robinson

Overview

While American soldiers were fighting abroad, those left at home, including children, contributed to the war effort in many ways.

Background

Although World War II wasn’t fought on US soil, its effects were deeply felt by all Americans. With a majority of the male population overseas, remaining citizens dedicated themselves to the task of keeping the country running efficiently while supporting the soldiers. Women, previously discouraged from working in industry, became the work force out of necessity.

Young people experienced childhood that included carrying out their civic duty above all else. They collected everyday items for use in the military, helped plant some of the twenty million “victory gardens” that added to the food supply, and bought war bonds to support the effort.

Essential Question

How did American children impact the war effort during World War II?

Motivation

It’s common for children to feel that, in the grand scheme of things, what they contribute to a cause isn’t significant. Through this activity, students will learn about important actions of kids during World War II and consider how they themselves can help during the current conflict in Iraq.

Objectives

  • Students will identify the ways in which children were involved in the war effort in the 1940s.
  • Students will view World War II propaganda posters and create their own.
  • Students will listen to patriotic songs that children were taught in school.
  • Students will compare children’s contributions during World War II to the contributions of modern children.

Materials

  • World War II Posters, New Hampshire State Library (Caution: The Every Citizen a Soldier section features anti-Japanese posters.
  • Posters on the American Home Front, Smithsonian
  • World War II Popular Music, University of Missouri, Kansas City
  • Construction paper, markers, colored pencils for WWII propaganda posters
  • Conservation Effort Images, Library of Congress
  • “Scrap pile” items: Hershey’s bar (foil), rubber bands, nylon stockings, brown paper bag, newspaper, tin can, empty toothpaste tube, various metal and rubber items

Procedure

Day One

The objective of the following activity is to create a “We’re all in this together!” mentality, just as the citizens on the home front did during World War II. Instead of an enemy invasion, however, the class will examine the notion that their privacy is being grossly invaded.

Inform the class that someone is able to videotape each of them, at any time during the school day, and they won’t even know when it’s happening. As they spout off adjectives describing how they feel, write them on the board. Include the word “violated” if it is not suggested by the class.

Now tell the class that only three kids will have their privacy invaded like this, but they won’t know which three. With a show of hands, ask them for reactions. Would they:

a) Assume that the odds are in their favor and that they’re not in that group, and forget about it? 

OR

b) Rebel against such an attack on any person’s privacy, and do something about it?

The majority will most likely agree with choice b. If they don’t, question their reasons and redirect.

Take the opportunity to listen to their conversations about the indignities of such an invasion of privacy, and ask what might be done about it. Among the suggestions should be creating awareness that this is going on, and methods for lletting others know about it (through announcements, newspapers, posters, etc.).

Next, discuss the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and how violated the country felt. Note that Americans wanted to come together to help their fellow citizens after this attack. Relate this to the way the class responded to the “threat” to their privacy.

Divide the class into small groups to view propaganda posters from World War II, and remind them that posters were one of the ideas mentioned when trying to create awareness. An interactive slideshow of World War II propaganda posters can be found in the December 2007 issue of History Now, as well as at the two sites linked above (New Hampshire State Library and the Smithsonian).

Each student recreates or designs their own poster.

During the activity, World War II–era popular music would be effective background enhancement. In addition to available CDs, the University of Missouri, Kansas City Library has a collection of World War II songs, linked above. Scroll down to find the record images, and click on each.

Closure

We’ve discussed how invasion, whether of a country or a person’s privacy, sets in motion the need to unify and react. What poster or posters viewed today illustrate that idea?

Day Two

Hold up a Hershey’s chocolate bar, put the chocolate to the side, and the foil wrapper on the table. Next, show the class some rubber bands, and place them with the foil. Continue in the same manner with a brown paper bag, pair of nylon stockings, and some scrap metal (hairpin, paperclip, wire, tin can, pots, etc.) until a minor pile of “stuff” is accumulated.

Ask the kids, “Does anyone know what these items have in common?” Although there may be some creative responses, redirect and add, “Kids collected them in the 1940s, but not for fun.” Announce that items like these were collected by citizens, including many school-aged children, so they could do their part to help during World War II. Large scrap metal piles were built up in front of courthouses, etc. throughout America.

On a separate piece of paper, each student writes the heading “Children’s War Collection” at the top. As the teacher holds up an item, the students write the name of it and why they think it was collected during World War II.

  • Tinfoil candy/gum wrappers and metal objects of any size were used in making weapons.
  • Rubber bands, heels of shoes, mats, and old tires were used for vehicle tires and gas masks.
  • Nylon/silk stockings were made into parachutes and powder bags used in firing “big guns.”
  • Newsprint, and other paper was turned into boxes, cartons, and shell casings. Brown paper bags were ironed and used to wrap packages sent overseas
  • Toothpaste tubes were made of lead, and empty ones were collected to make weapons.

Go over the kids’ answers and compare to actual uses. Many will ask how these recycled items could possibly be helpful. The answer is that a lot of them were used as intended. The camaraderie and commitment on the home front was a necessary way to keep momentum alive for everyone.

Closure

As you’ve learned in today’s lesson, recycling is not a new idea. In addition to collecting materials for use in the war, why was this effort so important? (Talk about how the country rallied around the cause, sacrificed, and worked together.)

Application

As illustrated in this lesson, World War II was a unifying event on the home front, and children did their part to help the cause. Today, American soldiers are at war in Iraq. What things can be done to help the soldiers of today?

Extension Activities

There were many other ways children did their part for the cause. “Victory gardens” were grown to contribute to the food supply and were planted anywhere and everywhere (e.g., in the middle of town, on corners of land). Victory gardens produced one-third of all fresh vegetables in the country in 1943. Find a patch of land somewhere on school grounds and plant a classroom “victory garden.”

War Bond stamps cost 25 cents a piece, and were put into a booklet that, when filled, would have cost about $18.00. After the war, these booklets could be redeemed for $25.00. Children were some of the most avid collectors. Compare War Bonds from World War II to the Savings Bonds of today.

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Discussion

Great lesson! I am currently teaching 2nd grade and I am planning on to using parts of this lesson when I teach about the importance of recycling. I really like the theme,"We are all in this together."


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