I’m thankful for those who have made history for doing good, and the first Thanksgiving story is one such example! When I was in elementary school I remember our class dressing up as Pilgrims and Indians, and having a meal together in remembrance of the first Thanksgiving. It was so much fun I still remember it! However it wasn’t until I homeschooled my own children that I grasped the full significance of this story.
For example, the Pilgrims were so desperate for freedom they risked everything to go to America, but God provided for them in miraculous ways! Thanksgiving was much more than a meal, it was a celebration with new friends & worship to God!
In this post are 5 fun activities you can use to teach the real, captivating story of the first Thanksgiving while providing a memorable experience for your family!
1. Read the story of the first Thanksgiving together while acting out the parts
Kids love to perform for their parents, and it’s a great way to bring them into the story to help them remember what they’re learning! Before you begin, have some simple props or costumes ready (here’s a link on how to make some simple ones yourself!), a book on the first Thanksgiving, and decide who will be which character.
You may also want a recording device like your phone ready to get this on video! As you read the story out-loud, have your kids act out the story.
Some highlights of the story include:
- sailing on the Mayflower
- Pilgrims meeting the Native American Indians for the first time
- peace treaty between them
- Squanto teaching the Pilgrims how to tap maple trees and plant crops like corn and squash
- Thanksgiving meal
- singing hymns to worship God.
There are many good books on the first Thanksgiving, but here are two my boys enjoyed reading: ABeka’s “Our American Heritage,“and “Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims.”
2. Create a “colony”
When you take the time to get rid of all distractions, and focus on your little ones they will feel so special! This activity is a great way to not only teach about the first Thanksgiving, but it will also create a wonderful bonding experience for you and your child.
Pretend with your children that you are a family of voyagers sailing across the sea on the Mayflower to make your home in a new land. Imagine what it would have been like to be on that ship, and to see the new land for the first time!
Immerse yourselves in the story! What would you see, smell, feel, and taste?
Think about what land would make the ideal spot for building homes, and what you’d like your new colony to have. Then, gather building materials such as Lincoln Logs, blocks, playdough, air-dry clay or craft sticks to create a colony of your own. Look up “Plymouth Plantation” to see pictures of where the Pilgrims made their first home in Massachusetts.
How does yours compare? What materials did they have to use, and what were they lacking? Do their homes have windows?
Get your children to think through the answers, and if they are older you can have them do their own research. If you’re up for a road-trip, you can tour Plymouth Plantation and see how it would have looked in the 1600s. They even have a Thanksgiving dinner buffet available if you tour in November!
3. Plant corn like Squanto!
Squanto was a Native American Indian who spoke English and be-friended the Pilgrims when they met. He showed them many skills that helped the new colonists survive in their new homeland. He taught them how to plant crops they had never seen before like squash, pumpkin, and corn. When it was time to plant the corn, Squanto dug holes in the ground and dropped small fish into the holes.
It was said that one of the Pilgrim girls upon seeing him do this went running to the others exclaiming, “he’s planting fish!” 🙂 Next, he put a kernel of corn and a few bean seeds in the hole and covered it up with soil. He told the Pilgrims that the ground gets hungry too and needs the fish to help grow a good crop.
You can try this as a science experiment with your kids! Plant a corn kernel without fish in a pot of dirt (or in your yard). In another pot of dirt (or in your yard), plant a kernel of corn with a few pieces of raw fish.
Which grows faster? Which yields a better crop? For some inspiration, click here to see how one boy did this experiment and won in a science competition!
4. Play a game of Hubbub
During the three-day Thanksgiving celebration between the Indians and Pilgrims, they played a variety of games. The Wampanoag Indian tribe taught the Pilgrim children how to play Hubbub, which is a game the Native American Indians played in order to trade items like animal furs and knives.
To play, you’ll just need a bowl, some pennies (they would have used flat wooden pieces that were dark on one side, and light on the other), and a partner. Players choose a side of the coin (‘heads’ or ‘tails’), then take turns bouncing the bowl of pennies on the ground. Each time the pennies land on his side, it’s a point for him.
For more detailed instructions on how to play, visit this website. You may want to bring this game along with you to your next family gathering!
5. Practice Serving
One of the best skills we can teach our children is to give. If children are taught to give by serving their family or neighbors, it will help them to develop a thankful attitude. Remind your children about the first Thanksgiving, and how the Indians and Pilgrims blessed each other by giving to each other.
Chief Massasoit and 90 Indians from his tribe came to the first Thanksgiving feast, and they brought gifts of food for the Pilgrims such as deer and wild turkeys they had hunted. The Pilgrims shared the harvest they had collected.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, find ways to help your children practice serving. They might help you make a part of the Thanksgiving meal, set the table, write Thanksgiving cards for their grandparents, rake leaves for a neighbor, or help you deliver a meal to someone in need.
Observing you serving in the community is a profound lesson that will stick with them, too! In Acts 20:35 it says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” May you be greatly blessed for serving others and teaching your children diligently!
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A big thank you to Kirsten McTernan for writing this guest post!
Kirsten McTernan is the author of Homeschooling: You CAN Do It!, wife, mom of four boys, homeschool teacher, and conference speaker. She lives in Central PA where she enjoys leading a MOPS group and planning homeschool events for her community.
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