On Thanksgiving Day you'll be spending a lot of time in the kitchen, but what will your children be doing? Some of them who are old enough will be helping, but what about the rest of them? What memories do you want them to have of this day?
They could remember a day staying out of the way of the adults, eating until their stomachs hurt, then lying around the rest of the afternoon. They could remember frantically leafing through Black Friday ads, figuring out how to divvy up the cars and the credit cards. Neither of these are bad memories. But what if they could remember something more, something meaningful? Here are some ideas for how to remind your children what Thanksgiving is all about.
Write thank-you notes
Kids should know that Thanksgiving was first celebrated because the pilgrims were thankful for the food the Indians provided for them. Help them identify someone that has helped them or taught them something important, then let them write a thank-you letter to that person. If they can't write it for themselves, have an older sibling help them or let them draw a picture.
Deliver the letter in person later, if you can, otherwise help walk your children through the old-fashioned process of mailing a letter. It's a dying art.
Color Thanksgiving-themed pictures
This is a good activity for young kids who are nonverbal or just learning to talk. Let them color pictures of turkeys, pilgrims, and Indians, and talk to them while they do so. Set them in a high chair nearby while you mash the potatoes if you need to. They don't yet understand all your words, but the feeling behind your message will come across at a deeper level. They'll know Thanksgiving isn't an ordinary day.
Make a gratitude "grab bag"
With a little preparation, you can help kids identify things in their own lives they're thankful for. Make a list of things your family has been blessed with then cut each word out on its own strip. Do the same with the word THANKSGIVING, repeated nine or 10 times.
Put all the strips in a bowl and let the kids pull them out, one word at a time. If they get the word THANKSGIVING, let them come up with their own idea of what they're thankful for. If they pull out any other strip, have them explain why they should be thankful for that item.
Thankful paper chain
This is a twist on the grab bag activity. Instead of writing out for the kids the things they might be thankful for, just cut out strips and let them write down their own ideas, one item per strip. String the strips together as a paper chain and use it to decorate the room where Thanksgiving dinner takes place. Let them share some of the things they wrote during dinner.
Pass-the-paper gratitude game
Everyone in the family could participate in this game. Sit in a circle and hand each person a blank paper and a pen. Everyone should write his or her own name at the top of the paper. When you give the word, pass the papers around the circle and have each person write some reason they're thankful for the person who's name is at the top of each paper. It's fun and anonymous and everyone ends up with a list of their best qualities and kindest deeds.
Gather a pile of old magazines you don't care about, a poster board, glue sticks, and scissors. Let the children look through the magazines, pick out things they're thankful for, cut those pictures out, and paste them on the poster board. When they're done, you should have a nice, colorful collage which can act as a photo backdrop or some decorative artwork to hang near the dinner table.
Gratitude activities don't have to be saved for this one day each year. They might be brought out and used any time you'd like to infuse your family with a little more thankfulness. Kids have a knack for being grateful for the small things. The reminder of what all those little things are will be good for you, too.