The First Thanksgiving, Live and in Person

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Jennie Augusta Brownscombe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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.

Luckily, you can visit colonial Plymouth, or Plimoth Plantation, circa 1627. How? Through the magic of virtual field trips.

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.

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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:

By Tr!sie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Tr!sie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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.

Lesson arc

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.

By Tr!sie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Tr!sie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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?

~Meg

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