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Thanksgiving: A Unique Teaching Opportunity For Children

Thanksgiving is a special holiday: a whole day focused on spending time with loved ones and being thankful. But before you pull up to the table to enjoy your delicious Thanksgiving feast, consider the opportunities this day presents to teach children about the important values of thankfulness, gratitude, and family.

Family Eating Thanksgiving Dinner
Family Eating Thanksgiving Dinner

What many of us don’t realize, though, is the holiday’s controversial history. The first Thanksgiving as we know may be a mix of myth and actual history. While it likely included a celebration meal, some historians argue that traditional textbooks paint too sunny a portrait of the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, which actually included years of bloody conflict. With the weighty responsibility of shaping young minds, parents and early childhood education professionals are faced with a difficult dilemma. Should they teach the Thanksgiving story as we often hear it, glossing over the difficult details? Can we shift the dialogue / focus towards other aspects of the day such as thankfulness, gratitude, and family?

Below are some handy tips and recommendations to help you prepare the perfect, age-appropriate Thanksgiving day:

  • Talk about why we celebrate Thanksgiving: Connect your celebration to the original story of the fall harvest celebration that brought together Native Americans and Pilgrims for a feast.

  • Tell stories: If your celebration involves multiple generations or multiple families, talk about traditions, "the good old days," and your own childhood. Stories teach children about life and history.

  • Demonstrate compassion: Volunteer as a family or encourage your child to make a card for a sick friend at school or give them a call to tell them they hope they feel better.

  • Create something for Thanksgiving together: Whether you're cooking with your children or creating a craft, involving kids in the preparation or an activity is a great way to celebrate and enjoy family time. Don’t worry if the potatoes have a lump or two—the memory-making experience is worth it.

  • Talk about your Thanksgiving feast: Talk to children about where food comes from and how it was prepared. Everyone can share what their favorite food is and why.

  • Be thankful: Focus on the things you are thankful for; ask everyone at the table to say what they are thankful for or make a list of what your family is thankful for. To take this gratitude lesson to the next level, you could perhaps even hang poster board on the wall and ask everyone to write things they are thankful for throughout the day.

  • Emphasize inclusivity: One of the great strengths of Thanksgiving is it transcends religions and cultural differences. A religious family can emphasize the important of thanking God, while more secular families can focus on simply being thankful. Either way, you’re fostering feelings of gratitude in your children and an appreciation for the people and things in their lives. And that, really, is the central meaning of Thanksgiving.

  • Think about others: Include your child in the process of selecting a gift for a friend or family member. While they may have a difficult time taking on the perspective of someone else, try and engage them by talking about the person’s hobbies or interests.

  • Put aside differences: Families can be wonderful and enjoyable, but tension and stress are often a part of family get-togethers. Vow to put aside differences on Thanksgiving and focus on the aspects of your family for which you are grateful. While easier said than done, this provides an excellent model for children as they learn about relationships and family.

  • Have fun: Sometimes children spend long hours at the kid’s table while grown-ups talk and talk. Be sure fun family activities and enjoying one another is a top priority on Thanksgiving. Maybe you can start a new tradition like going outside and playing a family game of football, or even creating a Thanksgiving Trivia activity.

From our family to yours, however you spend your day, we hope you have a safe, healthy, and delicious Thanksgiving with family, friends, and neighbors!

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