When it comes to teaching your kids about pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, there are a lot of ways to approach it. Some choose to start with teaching about native people while others may start with the national holiday itself. If you’re looking for ways to teach your kids about this iconic moment in history, below are several first Thanksgiving activities to help you get started.
Start with historical records
As you begin searching historical archives, you’ll come across tons of information about Pilgrims and how the first Thanksgiving may have happened. My best piece of advice is to start with a particular topic to study and go from there. Here are some topic ideas to help get your search started:
- English colonists
- English settlers
- Plymouth plantation
- Mayflower Compact
- First Thanksgiving feast
- First Thanksgiving celebration
These will help get you started as you look for historical information that can be used to piece together how Thanksgiving started and came about.
Learn about Pilgrims
Using some of the search ideas above, you can find lots of information and resources about Pilgrims. In short, they were the English settlers who came to North America on the Mayflower and established the Plymouth Colony. Today, this is known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. Learning about the first Pilgrims paves the way about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving.
One of the most interesting facts I like to teach my kids is how the New Englanders were seeking religious freedom and I make connections to how that is important in our times today.
Highlight the Native Americans
It’s kind of hard to talk about Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving without touching the base about the indigenous people. If you’d like to look into the specific tribes, start with the Wampanoag Indians or the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. Your kids will easily be able to see the connections between the Pilgrims and the local Indians (or local tribes).
You may find a Thanksgiving myth or two along the way, but needless to say, there is a lot of correct information surrounding the days of Thanksgiving. Discuss the stories as another of your first Thanksgiving activities.
Teach the significant role of President Abraham Lincoln
Part of the reason why we have an official holiday is that on October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln announced that the nation will celebrate an official Thanksgiving holiday on November 26, 1863. In the speech written by Secretary of State, William Seward, it was declared that the fourth Thursday of every November would be considered an official U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving.
Another interesting fact to tell your kids is that many years before, George Washington had actually called for an official celebratory “day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” Although Congress agreed, the holiday did not become an annual event until much later.
Learn about some of the foods that would have been cooked
Do your children ever wonder why certain foods are cooked for Thanksgiving day? It may have seemed like they didn’t have much then, but they were able to make some pretty big feasts. Some of the foods they cooked are still being cooked today. Take your kids on a feasting journey by learning about these foods and even having a go at cooking a few:
- pumpkin pie
- sweet potatoes
- cranberry sauce
- foods made with wheat flour
Resources to Teach about Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving
If you’re on the lookout for more first Thanksgiving activities & printable resources to use in your homeschool, I have a few for you! For starters, if you are homeschooling early readers, you’ll enjoy these Pilgrims emergent readers. With a little help, your young learners can read single words, short phrases, and fill-in-the-blanks. The pack includes 4 levels of readers in full color and/or black and white for fun, colorable pages.
I’ve always been a big fan of notebooking pages so I created this 54-page pack to help kids take notes while they research pilgrims. Whether they’re learning about the pilgrims of Plymouth colony or the story of the first Thanksgiving, these pages will help them keep up with important information.
Need a quick study about the Pilgrims? Sign up below for my Pilgrim Unit Study. It’s only 29 pages and includes all of the core subjects. Geared toward PreK-5th grade, you’ll have everything you need to learn about the Pilgrims this year! This unit study can also be used with kids older and younger with some simple adjustments with the first Thanksgiving activities included.
As we head toward day of Thanksgiving, use these ideas and resources to teach your kids about pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. It is certainly part of our American history that shouldn’t be ignored. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me how you teach your kids the story of the pilgrims and Thanksgiving.
A big thank you to Annette Breedlove of In All You Do for writing this guest post!
Annette has been married to her husband and best friend since 2003. Together they are raising their six children to follow the Lord’s will, no matter what. Annette longs for the day when she will meet all her angel babies who have entered heaven before her. She enjoys creating fun and engaging printables, unit studies, and curriculum for homeschool families. You can follow her crazy life at In All You Do where she blogs about marriage, parenting, and homeschooling all while maintaining her sanity as they travel fulltime around the United States. You can also keep up with her via Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, and their traveling adventures at Roadschooling the States with 8.
I love unit studies! Especially when my boys were younger.
These are some good ideas. We always had fun studying about the Pilgrims.
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