Thanksgiving has, and probably always will be, my favorite day of the year. It is a time for gathering together with family and friends—those whom we hold closest to our hearts. Although I try to teach my kids to be thankful everyday, the reality is that our lives are sometimes hectic and we often forget to express our gratitude. So in the weeks leading up to the holiday, I dig through my files and scour the web for fresh ideas on ways to help include my children in the preparations. And I try to find activities that reinforce the main concepts related to Thanksgiving, such as the season, our nation’s history, and most importantly, gratitude.
Here, then, are 10 ways to celebrate Thanksgiving with your children:
1. Get Online—Plimoth Plantation has a great website dedicated to the “First” Thanksgiving. Some of the education materials are to prepare the kids for visiting the plantation, but they have a ton of resources for educators and children. Kids may especially enjoy the section that teaches them how to “Talk like a Pilgrim.” Or they may prefer to play the awesome Thanksgiving Interactive, an award-winning online activity that allows children to act as “history detectives” and investigate what actually happened at the first feast between the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims.
2. Make a Thankful Tree—In recent years, creating a Thankful Tree at home has become a very popular idea. The best thing about it? You can make it any way you want! I have collected branches and arranged them in a pot, and even made a winter tree out of brown mailing paper and taped it to the wall. You can print colored leaves on your computer, or have the kids make their own using colored cardstock or construction paper. Need some ideas? Just seach for “Thankful Trees” on Pinterest for inspiration!
3. Sail the Mayflower—Who knew there were so many different ways to build a ship? Dig through your recycling bin if you have one, and ask your kids to create their own mini version of the Mayflower. Your family can study more about the real story behind this famous ship at MayflowerHistory.com.
4. Decorate the table—Does your family sit the kids at their own table for Thanksgiving? If so, put them in charge of decorating it. They can use their imaginations or use some of the handy-dandy printables available online. We like this one and this one—both are free!
If everyone is sitting at one table, ask your kids to help out and contribute some decorative touches. Napkin holders, place cards, and centerpieces mean so much more when crafted with love. Take a look here and here for some ideas.
5. Read a Book—There are dozens of books about Thanksgiving available at your local library or online. Some of our favorites include: If You Were At The First Thanksgiving, P Is for Pilgrim: A Thanksgiving Alphabet, and Celebrate Thanksgiving Day with Beto and Gaby (also available in Spanish).
6. Make Your Own Headdress—Pilgrim hat or indigenous headband—does your family have a preference? Either way there are hundreds of patterns online for making your own. Try these for making Pilgrim headwear or this one for a Native American headband.
7. Inject Culture Into the Menu—Food is the best part of the holiday! Take the time to cook with your kids and show them how to prepare the meal. How many of us have never cooked a turkey until we grew up and hosted our first Thanksgiving feast at home? But you don’t have to stick to the book. Many Latino family are creating unique celebrations by shying away from the traditional menu and creating their own dishes using the typical ingredients. My favorite? Pumpkin empanadas!
8. Create Your Own Village and Settlement—Every year we set up our own winter scene. This year, we’re toying with the idea of creating our own Pilgrim settlement and a nearby Wampanoag village. I was inspired by this picture on Parents.com
9. Make a Family Heirloom—I really love this family craft from CreativeCaremella’s blog. It is easy, creative, and an instant heirloom to be treasured forever. I think you could take the same concept and apply it to other mediums. For instance, instead of a framed piece, you could also create a family Thanksgiving tablecloth or runner and have everyone sign and date it each year.
10. Field Trip!—If you’re fortunate enough to live along the East Coast, there are many time-period destinations celebrating the landmark day. But museums and libraries all over the country take advantage of this time to teach children the history surrounding the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving, so be sure to investigate your local area. And if you aren’t able to get out and visit one of these exhibits or events, don’t worry! You can go on a Virtual Field Trip thanks to Scholastic. This interactive site is chalk full of resources: from videos of the Pilgrim village and Wampanoag homesite, to audio clips of what life was like for both peoples, to interviews of the characters. Kids can read a letter from a Pilgrim or Wampanoag child, or they can create their own miniversion of the Mayflower. Teachers and parents can download a large number of free printables and lesson plans to complement their study of the subject. After watching, I had my kids fill out one of the printables describing what their life would be like as a pilgrim/Wampanoag.
Wishing you all the happiest of Thanksgivings!