Thanksgiving is a great holiday for spending time with family and eating lots of delicious foods. But, it is also important that your child(ren) know the true meaning of the holiday and why it is so vastly celebrated.
Although you may be busy planning the holiday meal or making travel arrangements, you should set some time aside to teach the kids why Thanksgiving is so much more than turkey and pumpkin pie.
Start from the Beginning
A good way to bring up the subject is to ask your child what they think Thanksgiving is or what they already know about the holiday. Most children under the age of 10 already know a little something about Thanksgiving from school. So, this is a great way to approach the topic by finding out what they have learned so far. Chances are they will tell you a little bit about the Native Americans and Pilgrims getting together for a giant feast. Depending on the age of the child, and how in depth you want to go, utilize websites like history.com and kids.nationalgeographic.com for videos, pictures, and stories about the first Thanksgiving in 1621.
Don’t Forget about the Mayflower
Of course, there would be no Thanksgiving if it weren’t for the 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower. Scholastic has an entire webpage dedicated to ‘The First Thanksgiving’ and the voyage of the Mayflower. It is perfect for little minds that want to see what life was like in the 1600s. By visiting the website, your child will get the chance to see the long journey taken by the ship and its passengers, as well as a seven-part tour of the pieces that made up the ship. Other great links include information about the daily life of the first settlers, the first feast, historical letters, and dozens of other interesting facts about Thanksgiving.
Be Creative – Do an Activity
Parents are never too old to have some fun with their kids. After talking about the first Thanksgiving, make a craft with your child that that helps to demonstrate that early era of time. Use a standard size piece of paper or construction paper and have them color a picture of how they envision that initial feast. Not only does this keep the conversation going, but it makes learning about the holiday creative and fun. You can also laminate the drawing and use it as your child’s Thanksgiving Day placemat.
For more Thanksgiving craft ideas, check out http://www.enchantedlearning.com/crafts/thanksgiving/.
Talk about Family Traditions
After making a holiday related craft, you can talk to your child about your own family traditions. You may want to begin with a story of when you were a child and what you did back then to celebrate Thanksgiving. Be sure to mention if any of those traditions are carried on today. Also, discuss what you do now as a family to celebrate Thanksgiving and what traditions you make sure to carry on from year to year. Whether your traditions are generations old, or brand new your child will enjoy hearing about how and why they celebrate Thanksgiving the way they do.
This is also a great time to find out what your child enjoys most about the holiday. Have everyone involved name at least one of his or her favorite things about Thanksgiving and why. This can open the door to some very cute conversations.
One of the most essential things you will ever teach your family is thankfulness and appreciation. Once the short history lesson is over, make sure you have time to talk about the “thanks” in Thanksgiving as it pertains to everyone in the family. All young children are able to understand this concept and should be able to name several things in their life that they are thankful for. Now, if your child starts naming off all his or her toys, that’s okay. Remember they are just young kiddos, but use the moment to talk about how those toys were bought with your hard-earned money. This is a terrific opportunity to let your kids know how much you do for them because you love them. They also need to understand the importance of non-material gifts such as people, pets, food, and a nice warm home.
Whatever your personal family values are, share them with your child and even make a list. Keep it on the fridge and refer to it often – not just on Thanksgiving. Teaching your child thankfulness from an early age will only help to enforce it when they hit those wonderful teenage years.
Other Ways to Teach the Meaning of Thanksgiving
In addition to a history lesson and crafts, there are lots of books and movies that make learning about the holiday enjoyable.
Check out these suggestions…
10 Children’s Thanksgiving Books
1. One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims by B.G. Hennessy
2. ‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey
3. Thanksgiving is for Giving Thanks by Margaret Sutherland
4. Biscuit is Thankful by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
5. All of Me! A Book of Thanks by Molly Bang
6. The First Thanksgiving by Sarah Treu
7. The Littlest Pilgrim by Brandi Doughtery
8. What is Thanksgiving? by Michelle Medlock Adams
9. The Story of the Pilgrims by H.L. Ross
10. The Berenstain Bears Thanksgiving Blessings by Mike Berenstein
5 Children’s Thanksgiving Movies
1. Mouse on the Mayflower
2. Winnie the Pooh – Seasons of Giving
3. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
4. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Alvin’s Thanksgiving Celebration
5. Miracle on 34th Street
And, don’t forget to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade!
Let the Kids Help Set the Table
Another excellent thing you can teach your child on Thanksgiving is how to properly set a table. Use this time to talk about place settings and table manners. Not only is the table where everyone gathers for the meal, but it the place where you all come together to enjoy each other’s company.
If you are having a separate table for the children, consider using wrapping paper as the tablecloth. Use brown or white paper that allows the children to draw on it before dinner. All the children can get in on the fun and cover the table with pictures and words of things they are thankful for. There’s no better tablecloth than one that is homemade by little hands.
Remember to Enjoy the Day
When it comes time for your own feast, adult’s also need to remember what the holiday is all about. Kids learn by example, so try not to stress over all the preparations. Show your child(ren) that the day should be about happily gathering with family and friends – not cooking and cleaning. Also have all the adults at the table name something they are grateful for. When children see grownups appreciating the best things in life, they will learn to do the same.
Give Thanks after Thanksgiving
Although life gets busy, make a conscious effort to have a thankful day more than just one day a year. Teaching your child to be thankful for the things and people in his or her life now, will enhance their life and make them a better adult when the time comes. It may be hard to imagine your little one all grown up, but as the old cliché says- this time in their life truly does fly by. Enjoy your children while they are young, and remind them to be thankful for what they have every day.