Every child learns the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving, which tells of the bountiful dinner shared by the Pilgrims and Native Americans. And while that story is an important piece of cultural knowledge, kids should also be given the opportunity to have some of the stereotypes inherent in that story dispelled and to learn how to focus on the theme of gratitude inherent in celebrating the holiday. In addition, it is important for kids to understand that some of the modern customs associated with Thanksgiving have become part of that holiday’s tradition.
How to Teach Kids About Thanksgiving
Discuss the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving with children, pointing out that it refers to a time hundreds of years ago. Explain that the Native Americans who lived in what the Pilgrims called the New World were not just “Indians,” but members of various distinct tribes. You might want to research with your children some information about a tribe from your region. Point out to kids that Native Americans are with us today and that each of them, in addition to being an American citizen, is also a member of a tribe.
Discuss the name of the holiday in light of what the Pilgrims had to be thankful for. Guide kids in researching how bleak the Pilgrims’ world must have been and what hardships they endured. Discuss the limited types of foods and shelter available to the Pilgrims, how hard they must have worked, what they might have done, if anything, for entertainment. Talk about the fact that families today can drive or fly in from around the country and the world to be together at Thanksgiving, but when the Pilgrims said goodbye to their families to sail across the ocean to a new land, they pretty much knew they would never see their families again.
Give kids a chance to help prepare the Thanksgiving meal, and consider including dishes that might have actually been served by Pilgrims at a harvest meal. Talk about the kinds of crops they grew and what they might have done with some of the foods they had available. Explain that some of the foods we traditionally serve today have been part of the Thanksgiving menu since President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
Talk about modern Thanksgiving traditions. Explain that the way in which holidays are celebrated evolves and that when it comes to older or newer traditions, one is not intrinsically better than the other. One family might like watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and then eat a formal dinner, while another family may eat their Thanksgiving meal while watching football on TV. Some families may cook foods traditional to their heritage, while other families wouldn’t consider it Thanksgiving without a turkey.
Start a Thanksgiving tradition that reflects the theme of gratitude. Ask each member of the family to write a little note of thanks to every other member of the family; for example, “Grandma, thanks for helping me with my research paper.” Place these notes in envelopes at each family member’s place at the table. Create a DVD with family members each declaring what they are thankful for; add to it every year. Perhaps you and your children might like to learn how to say thank you in different languages.