For parents, Thanksgiving probably means cooking up a big dinner—or at least a dish to share—and/or getting the house ready for guests. Children, though, might look at the holiday as the time for a big turkey dinner, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and four days off from school.
Parents also understand the meaning behind the holiday, and know that behind those decorative fall colors and gourd centerpieces, gratefulness and thankfulness lie at the heart of Thanksgiving. But even if parents remember to take a moment for gratitude, how can they inspire gratitude in kids this Thanksgiving?
Here are eight activities to get ready for Thanksgiving and embrace the meaning behind this day of giving thanks!
Gratitude jars, joy jars or blessing jars are really the same concept. This is an empty jar that holds a message of thankfulness or a blessing shared for each day. These jars are an easy and fun DIY project; parents will need empty Mason jars and strips of paper. Children can decorate their jars with colors or symbols of the holiday…or anyway they like.
Every day encourages children to write something for which they are thankful. Start the tradition on Thanksgiving, and aim to write a message each day until next Thanksgiving. Then open up the jars and let children read their blessings.
Start a new jar of messages each year! Children can use last year’s jar or make a new one every year.
Donate to the Less Fortunate
Not everyone has family or friends with whom they can share the holiday. Some don’t have homes, access to a warm space or even a dinner to eat. To commemorate the blessings of being fortunate to have each of these things, give others blessings.
Local food pantries may accept items for Thanksgiving dinners to provide to families in need. Or they may be in need of other items. Take children shopping to pick out items to donate.
Read to a Shelter Animal
Does the family have a beloved pet? Some animals will spend Thanksgiving waiting for a loving home and a forever family. There are shelters that encourage children to read to shelter dogs to provide them with companionship.
Not only does reading to dogs help children, but it helps the animals, too. Children can read at their speed; they don’t need to worry about making a mistake. Animals will likely just love the attention, the time and the new smiling faces!
Do a Random Act of Kindness
Celebrate Thanksgiving by doing a random act of kindness, and make this a family tradition. Encourage children to do one nice thing for someone in honor of the holiday. Maybe they help a friend, a sibling or just pay someone a compliment. Maybe they take the trash to the curb without being asked!
Say Thank You
On Thanksgiving, share thanks with those you love. The family can go around the table and share something kind about every person. Or say a thank you to every person for a kind act that they have done. There’s always a reason to say thank you!
10 Days of Thanksgiving
Before the day of thanks formally arrives, get into the giving spirit by celebrating the 10 days before Thanksgiving. For each day before Thanksgiving, do something kind as a family. This could be volunteering, helping a neighbor or relative or just helping each other. Maybe one day is devoted to everyone getting the home ready for the holiday.
Leave Notes of Kindness
Leave a note of kindness for a friend or family member. Or maybe leave a random note for someone who needs a kind word. Write a note on a nice message on a sales receipt. Or write a nice review for a favorite restaurant. Parents can even send a kind note to a child’s teacher.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
For some, gratitude is every day. There are even gratitude journals to keep track of blessings and to write about events of the day. Encourage children to start a gratitude journal this year!
Understanding Thanksgiving Traditions
While doing acts of kindness and celebrating gratitude embraces the essence of the holiday, there also is a lot of history behind Thanksgiving and its traditions. From the history of the Plymouth colonists to the tradition of the President pardoning a turkey, here are topics to help children explore to understand more about Thanksgiving:
The History of Thanksgiving
Families can celebrate Thanksgiving by embracing some of the above ideas and making the thankful activity part of their yearly tradition. However, sometimes children don’t always understand why Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful.
Children might not know the history behind the holiday or why Thanksgiving is even about giving thanks. Some parents also might not know the full history of the holiday.
While many assume that the Native Americans and the pilgrims were gathered around a big table eating turkey and other yummy foods, that really isn’t the real historical perspective. However, it’s important for children to learn how and why the earliest settlers had a reason to be thankful and grateful for the Native American tribes who helped them survive in an unfamiliar terrain.
Local libraries will be the best source of Thanksgiving history. Visit the children’s section for books related to this holiday and the history behind it.
Parents might even dig deeper into the other aspects of the holiday. Like the meaning behind the cornucopia (aka the horn o’plenty).
Thanksgiving around the World
Thanksgiving may be a U.S. holiday, but other countries may have similar holidays. Help children explore how other cultures celebrate their thanks.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, explore the traditions on each continent or have children list countries whose cultures they want to explore. Parents can also choose countries of their family’s heritage.
Pardon the Turkey
Every year, the President of the United States grants a pardon to one turkey. This specific bird will NOT be the main course on anyone’s dinner table.
Children may see this tradition take place each year. But do they know how it began? Do parents? The turkey may be thankful for the pardon, but this fun piece of U.S. history also has a backstory. Explore it this year! There are a lot of myths related to how the pardon came to be, and The White House Historical Association provides all the details!
Why Do We Eat Turkey on Thanksgiving?
Turkey is synonymous with the Thanksgiving meal. But why? Again, there are differing opinions about the yearly fowl feast. Historians speculate that the turkey might not have been on the dinner table at Plymouth; they believe that Pilgrims likely ate goose or duck instead.
According to Britannica, turkeys became a popular choice around the 19th century for a few reasons; turkeys weren’t hard to find and they could feed a family. Later, books referenced a turkey for holidays and it eventually became symbolic of the holiday.
Now the holiday meal encompasses many dishes beyond turkey including mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green beans, pies of many varieties, cornbread and more. Looking at these foods, it’s clear that most of the dishes represent foods that are harvested in the autumn.
Read to Understand
Children may be curious to know all about Thanksgiving beyond just the delicious dinner and the floats of a major parade. One of the easiest ways to learn about history is to encourage them to read about Thanksgiving!
This time of year is also a good time to pick up books related to the experiences of others and books detailing historical perspectives. Being thankful and grateful also means trying to walk a few steps in another person’s shoes. And understanding how gratitude can grow with new perspectives.
Encourage children to read a book a day to dig deeper into traditions, history and even festive foods at the local library!