Where Did Labor Day Come From?

01 Sep 2015

BY: DebraHartley

Education / Inspiration

by Debra Hartley

If you’ve been following the Speech Solutions Hawaii blog this year, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve focused on holidays a bit this year. Every month has a major holiday with the exception of August, but we’ve found that a lot of our kiddos don’t know the meaning or origin of these holidays. (And if we’re honest, some of us adults are a bit hazy on the details as well.) As far as our kids understand, it’s a day off from school, a chance to spend the day at Magic Island or Lanikai, BBQ day with friends, or, everyone’s favorite, stay up late and watch fireworks in Waikiki!


In speech therapy, it’s not just about learning to speak, it’s also about comprehending what is being said. With our national holidays, understanding often produces appreciation. We live in a very blessed nation and we learn to appreciate those blessings. Freedom, those who serve or have served our nation, those who have died for our freedom, and in September, appreciating the hard work and sacrifices that have been made in the work environments we enjoy today.

I remember when I was little being a bit intimidated by Labor Day. I thought it meant we had to work really hard that day! I was a bit surprised and relieved the first Labor Day that I actually remember – we went to the home of one of my friends and got to play on the swing set in their backyard and eat hamburgers and hot dogs and all kinds of junk food that my mom wouldn’t normally let me eat. Let’s just say I was a total fan!!

Here’s a quick refresher course for all of us on Labor Day before we start applying this to our kids. We’ve become accustomed to good working conditions in American businesses, but that wasn’t always so. Labor Day was instituted in 1882 to give working individuals a guaranteed day off. For centuries, working conditions were entirely dependent upon the business owner. Harsh conditions were common for wages that wouldn’t feed and clothe a mouse much less take care of a family. Most workers experienced long 10 – 12 hour days, few if any breaks, expectations to work even when sick, no care for the safety of the worker, and no job security or protection. Child labor was common a century ago and those children who had no choice but to work had few if any opportunities to receive an education. On many of the sugar plantations of Hawaii, workers were treated as poorly as slaves. As American workers started standing together to demand better conditions, things have evolved to what we have now. We’ve so quickly become used to this way of life that we are appalled when we hear of the conditions in other countries, but it wasn’t that long ago that our country was operating in similar ways. If remembering how far we’ve come doesn’t spark appreciation, I don’t know what will!

We appreciate that because we understand it; we’ve studied history and seen it portrayed in movies and TV. Now, how do we take that knowledge and put it in a form that our children will understand? Here are some ideas for you to get you thinking, but tailor it to your child. How do they learn best – auditory, visual, kinetic; experience or observation?

  • Take your child to work with you. Talk to them about your job, but also take them around to meet co-workers who can explain their job.
  • If you work in an office environment, but have a friend with a hands-on job, find out if you can take them to their workplace to observe.
  • Introduce them to a fireman or policeman who can explain the reality of what they do. It’s not just the exciting stuff we see on TV, there is a lot of hard work maintaining equipment, details, and paperwork, as well as some “boring” parts waiting around while staying alert.
  • Let them experience work both with daily chores & responsibilities around the house as well as a family “fall cleaning” day where everyone pitches in all day to clean the house (this takes some of the stress off of you while also teaching them).
  • Older children can get jobs to earn spending money – babysitting, newspapers, helping neighbors with yardwork, taking care of pets, etc.
  • Get involved as a family in volunteer work. Talk to your kids about what they are passionate about – teaching younger children what they know, helping at an animal shelter, serving food to the homeless.

For young children, teaching them by experience may not be appropriate. There are lots of books out there, including Labor Day (Rookie Read-About Holidays) by Carmen Bredeson or Jobs People Do by Christopher Maynard.

  • Have kids go through a stack of magazines to cut out pictures of people working and make a poster or collage. (For the techie-minded, they could do this on Pinterest!)
  • Play a game! Pull out various tools, toys and items that you have around the house that would be associated with different jobs. Have your kids list all of the jobs that may be done with each tool (whisk = chef, hammer = carpenter, contractor, roofer, nail polish = manicurist).
  • Create a job for them – you can be the customer while they work as the cashier.

Labor Day, and the other holidays that we celebrate throughout the year, is about appreciation for our blessings. No matter the age of your child, that is the lesson that we want to communicate. To all of those who have worked so hard for the blessings I have, I want to thank you!