Teaching Thanks(giving)!

Bring on the cute turkey cut-outs, acrostic poems, and Pilgrim hats!

It’s Thanksgiving season, and now is a great time to integrate learning in all sorts of ways. Check out these quick tips, for homeschool and classroom and just for fun!

Make a Feast

Mix in a little history with some home economics, and some bonus math thrown in for fun. Recreate some original Pilgrim recipes, and try some classics through the ages.

For recipes from the first Thanksgiving, check out Plimoth Plantation’s cool collection. I love that they don’t just stick to English cooking! There is an even split between Wampanoag and Pilgrim recipes.

Mix it up a little bit with food from the later colonial period, Civil War, and early 20th century. The Washington Post has a great article that walks readers through common, and surprising, Thanksgiving foods from different eras and regions. Try making tamales, pumpkin pie, candied yams with marshmallows, or serving hot apple cider!


Play a Little Game

Kids have been playing games since the beginning of time. Have your children (or students) use the games from Plimoth Plantation!

Also check out: Education Possible for their cool list, with directions, for nine more games.

Your kids will understand a little bit more about how Pilgrim or Colonial children lives, and played. And they can burn some energy and work out their creativity to boot!

Time Travel

No, I don’t have a time machine for you. But I DO have way cool books and virtual field trips to take!

For classrooms, you can set this up as a center for literacy and technology. Actually, everything except the cooking could be center-based activities done over a week or several days or as part of a Thanksgiving celebration.

Choose one (or all) of Kate Waters’ excellent books: Sarah Morton’s Day, Tappenum’s Day, On the Mayflower, and Samuel Eaton’s Day. Read it aloud, or let students read together/independently. Then have them compare and contrast the different books with each other, and with their own lives.

Then, use the virtual resources from Plimoth (yes, them again) to peek into the past. I love the interactive game: it helps students explore and learn more about both groups at the first Thanksgiving! There are also tons of different kid-specific fun ideas here.

A partnership with Scholastic and Pilmoth also brings you right into the action with a virtual field trip. This way, even if you don’t live in driving distance of southeastern Massachusetts, you can still experience Pilgrim life!

Create Crafts

Skip the construction paper Pilgrim hats this year, and opt for one (or two) of the crafts from Parenting.com. I really love the veggie print cards and the different ways to make a turkey.

Older kids could try to build their own Mayflower using twigs, glue, fabric, and paper.

Even littles can get in on the action:

  • make a thankful paper link chain every day in November leading up to Turkey Day, and then read the message on every link before dinner
  • Have kids decorate and laminate placemats – draw or write things they are thankful for; draw a Pilgrim and Wampanoag; show off their turkey handprints
  • make “thankful” cards for family and friends this month, and mail them out the week or so before Thanksgiving

A Little About the Main Source

Why do I have Plimoth mentioned more than once (and why is it spelled that way)? Easy, Plimoth (or Plimouth or Plymouth) Plantation on Cape Cod, MA is where the generally accepted first Thanksgiving took place in 1621.

Today, Plimoth Plantation is an interactive living history museum. Visitors can talk to costumed actors who live their roles daily. You can visit with “real” Pilgrims who dress, talk, and act like it is 1627. They never break character either. I’ve tried, too! Ask about TV, the president, anything after 1627 and they will seem befuddled and confused.

There is also a Wampanoag section of the property, populated by REAL Wampanoag tribe members. These are the descendent of the co-hosts of the first Thanksgiving! They dress in traditional clothes, but also connect to visitors through the 21st century. There are no weird terms or characters: just them, sharing their people’s history and traditions with you!

I also grew up about 45-60 minutes from Plimoth Plantation and have been there more times than I can count! Even as an adult, I still find new things to look at, learn about, and take away with me on each visit.

If you can, I definitely encourage you (and your class or family) to make the trip here. Beyond Plimoth Plantation, there is so much to do in Massachusetts: the New Bedford Whaling Museum (explores the history, ecology, and economics of the whaling industry), Lowell (learn about the dawn of the industrial revolution and factories), Lexington and Concord (retrace the “Shot Heard Round the World”), and beautiful Boston (so much history, culture, and fun! Go Sox!). Plus beaches, seafood, and amazing scenery.

How are you teaching Thanksgiving, and thanks, this year? Tell me in the comments here or on Facebook!


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