The first Thanksgiving took place in 1621 in Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. Being that this is about 400 years ago, and in a location that many children will never visit, it can be hard to understand this historic event.
Get it together
This is ultra easy, almost fool proof really. First, go to Scholastic’s Virtual Thanksgiving Field Trip. This one website gives you literally ALL of the resources you need to teach this lesson to any child, from K-12. There are videos, leveled teacher’s guides, and letters, all available for FREE. Yup, free. Seriously.
Then, use the interactive Thanksgiving Historian program to delve even deeper. It is seriously way cool!
Really, just poke around both websites, linked above, for resources aimed at children and adapt them for your class.
Create a learning shelf
Having tangible artifacts and books to use is crucial to many children’s understanding of their learning. So create one!
There are many books available to use for all ages and stages. My favorites include:
- Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen
- Sarah Morton’s Day by Kate Waters (one of a series covering a Wampanoag boy and a pilgrim boy, as well)
- If You Were at the First Thanksgiving by Anne Kamma
You could also add turkey feathers, dried corn on the cob or corn kernels, real or fake cranberries, or deerskin. These are all elements of the first Thanksgiving. You could also print off coloring pages or photos of Plimoth Plantation for students to study. Using a map to chart the Mayflower’s journey will help to put the Pilgrim’s journey into perspective.
This could be a one day lesson or a multi-day experience. With the wealth of resources at your disposal, this can be as complicated or simple as you want.
I devoted the entire day before Thanksgiving recess to teaching this. Living and teaching in Virginia was nice, because of the parallels between Jamestown and Plimoth. Making the leap between the two was a nice segue.
Here is the one day plan for teaching this my way. Use it, lose it, adapt it, whatever. But it’s here: MilKids Thanksgiving Lesson Plan
My students adore this day, and talk about it all year long. I hype it up the week prior. I explain we’re going on a field trip, and they get pumped. Then I say that we’re time travelling, and they are confused and even more excited. When I drop the bomb that we won’t be leaving the room, they are intrigued.
I love teaching this lesson. It brings my home state and educational heritage to life for students who have never heard this story, other than in myth or legend. Many students will never have the opportunity to visit the places where our great country began: Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, and other original colonial strongholds. This lesson helps them to create those connections to history and heritage that might otherwise be missed.
How do you celebrate Thanksgiving at school or at home?