Though kids may view Thanksgiving as the first stop on the school holiday vacation train, there's a lot more for them to know about it than simply no class, stuffed turkey and whipped cream-topped pumpkin pie. Considering Thanksgiving is one of the only holidays in which children can learn about sharing, community, gratitude and compassion for others, it's important to take the time to talk about its meaning.
This November, teach your children historically accurate facts about this important holiday by learning about the events that led up to the well-known first feast and doing creative Thanksgiving activities together. Share these activities with your nanny, so she can do them with your kids too.
Share an educational story time with your children, no matter their age, by reading a Thanksgiving-themed book. Take turns reading or ask questions about the pictures, depending on individual reading levels. Use the opportunity to discuss similarities between people and the importance of treating everyone with respect. Check out books like: "The Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving," "Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast," "Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy," or "P is For Pilgrim: A Thanksgiving Alphabet."
Journey to 1621
Use the topic of Thanksgiving to investigate the journey of the pilgrims. Children can learn important historical facts in a fun, interactive way. Plimoth Plantation, a Massachusetts-based living history museum about the Plymouth Colony, provides an award-winning and free downloadable Thanksgiving activity that's appropriate for children of any age. The site introduces children to a Wampanoag child and an English settler who lead them on their journey to uncover the truth and debunk popular myths about the first Thanksgiving. It provides different points of view on important historical events that happened between the Wampanoag people and the English settlers leading up to the first Thanksgiving in 1621 in an interesting, high-tech way.
Visit the Mayflower
The education experts at Scholastic have developed a complete and thorough unit dedicated to Thanksgiving. In addition to holiday-themed book recommendations, printable worksheets and informative videos, the site allows children to take a virtual tour of the Mayflower. Kids can also learn what daily life was like for the pilgrims and Wampanoags by comparing their living quarters, schools, chores and games.
Complete Thanksgiving Activity Sheets
Find coloring sheets, word searches, hidden picture sheets or puzzles online that relate to Thanksgiving. Print a turkey pattern and its feathers, and have kids write what they are thankful for on each feather before gluing them to the turkey.
Do Crafts that Teach Gratitude
Children can construct a "Thankful Paper Chain" to count down the days until Thanksgiving. Have them write what they are thankful for on strips of construction paper and then loop them together.
Create a "Thankful Tree" by tracing your child's hand on pieces of red, orange and yellow construction paper, and having them write why they are thankful on each. Then attach with glue to a brown tree trunk made of construction paper.
You can also add pictures to a photo album or scrapbook of people, places, foods, pets, toys, movies or events that are special to your family. Include interesting stories of gratitude or explanations in your "Blessings Book."
Decorate the Feast Table
Since Thanksgiving centers around making peace with people and sharing food, pay special attention to the table setting. Encourage children to make it special by constructing Thanksgiving-themed table decor themselves. Talk about what the pilgrims and Indians would have had available, and use those objects in your decorations.
Use cardboard tubes, construction paper, pompom balls and googly eyes to make pilgrims and Indians to set at each place setting. Kids can cut leaf shapes out of construction paper and write the name of each guest on one side and why they are thankful for them on the other.
Games are a great way to learn anything in a competitive, but fun way. Have a relay race in which children pass holiday-themed items like acorns, cranberries, nuts, peas and corn kernels to each other using chopsticks. Play trivia with fun Thanksgiving facts or create Thanksgiving bingo cards with historical information or Thanksgiving foods in the squares.
Today, Thanksgiving is a holiday signified by loved ones coming together to share a meal and give thanks for each other. By taking the opportunity to explain its origin to children in creative ways, they can not only understand its historical importance, but its relevance in their everyday lives.
Mary Evett is a freelance writer in Houston. Her work can be found here.