autumn,  developmentally appropriate,  fall,  Holidays,  Thanksgiving

What Thanksgiving means to a preschooler

Now that it’s November we can talk about Thanksgiving.  When teaching preschoolers about Thanksgiving the key is to make the entire concept relevant to them.  They can’t understand Pilgrims and Native Americans because they don’t have a grasp on our past or the history of our country, so I focus on three concepts that do play a role in the average preschooler’s daily life – food, family, and thankfulness.  These three concepts are something that young children are familiar with, but Thanksgiving provides the perfect opportunity to dig a little deeper and build understanding in all three areas.

Food: There are so many foods that are traditionally eaten during the Thanksgiving season, and many of these are only eaten at Thanksgiving.  In addition, many families have adapted traditions to fit their own celebrations, so some children may be familiar with some of these foods, while others are not.  This is the perfect opportunity to talk about tradition and to explore new tastes and textures.  Pumpkin pie tastes very different than squash, canned cranberry sauce has a different texture than homemade cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes look different than scalloped potatoes.  Invite families to bring in their favorite dishes, explore the different ingredients in all of these dishes, and use food preferences to create graphs and charts.  There are a number of different learning experiences that can be explored with food.

Family: Talking about families within the context of celebrating Thanksgiving makes the concept authentic, not forced.  This is the perfect time of year to discuss different family structures, how celebrations are different when family members live close or far away, and what it means to be a part of a family.  Children can introduce their family members to the class using photos, make lists of who they will be celebrating the holiday with, and share their favorite things to do with their family members.  This is also a perfect way to engage parents in class activities, by having conversations with them about their own families, and making sure that you include them in discussions of family.

Thankfulness: I try to instill gratitude in my students all year long, but Thanksgiving is the natural season for making this discussion a priority.  I encourage the children (and their family members) to share what they are thankful for, and also suggest ways that we can help others who may be in need of a little extra help throughout the holiday season.  This helps children practice empathy and recognize that they are lucky to have the things that they have.  Make a thankful tree that children and family members can add thankful leaves to, take on a class service project, and read stories about the spirit of Thanksgiving.

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving with your students, share some of your favorite activities in the comments!

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