When we think of Labor Day, we imagine enjoying a barbeque with family and friends; for kids, it’s often the last weekend before school begins. But the holiday’s origins are actually quite different.
In the late 1800’s, the average American worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day, just to make ends meet. Although it was illegal in many states, kids as young as five or six years old could be found performing manual labor at factories and mills for a fraction of an adult’s paycheck. Workers of all ages faced unsafe conditions, poor sanitation and air quality, and long days with no guaranteed breaks.
Newly minted labor unions started to organize protests and strikes to fight for better working conditions and fair hours. On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took a day off to march in the first Labor Day parade in United States history. State by state, Labor Day became an official holiday honoring workers’ contributions and rights. The original Labor Day celebrations included a parade to demonstrate the strength and spirit of American labor organizations and a festival to entertain workers and their families.
Twelve years after the Labor Day movement began, American railroad workers organized a major strike in Chicago, and federal troops were sent in. Twelve workers were killed in the clash, and Congress, in an attempt to make amends with American laborers, legalized the holiday in Washington D.C.
To honor these origins, consider doing the following simple activities with your kids and having conversations related to different jobs:
Thank You Notes
How many people do you pass everyday working in your neighborhood? In your school? Do you stop and say hi to them? Ask them how they are doing? There are so many people that work hard to make sure we thrive as communities, and we often forget to say two small, but mighty, words – thank you. Take some time this Labor Day weekend to recognize those people that often go unnoticed. With your family, think of all the people that work in your neighborhood. Then, write them a Thank You note, draw a picture – anything you can think of – and deliver it to them. A small token of appreciation can have a big impact.
What is your dream job? What jobs do you think are interesting or important? Have your family, friends, or whoever wants to participate, draw themselves in their dream career! What would that person wear? What tools do they need? Where would they be in this job?
You can make these drawing on pieces of paper, OR go outside, and trace your bodies with sidewalk chalk, and fill them in. Who knows, maybe you can draw a whole community of workers!!
If you’d like, have a conversation about why people pick different jobs, sharing your own stories. Do you follow your passions? What will support you financially? Did your dream job change?