How to Shift your Teaching at Thanksgiving Time: for Kids 9 to 12


Thanksgiving is often viewed as a joyous celebration in many homes. I know that our family looks forward to it every year as this is the one celebration we usually all can attend. Great Grandmother, our matriarch, has not left the area for warmer weather during the winter.  Most of the family members have a holiday scheduled and can attend the festivities. Since we each share in the meal preparation, everyone can enjoy catching up on the year’s progress. No one member is saddled with the responsibility of the event. Our celebration is filled with sharing and giving thanks for being able to spend time together. There is no stress over gift-giving as the only gift we give each other is our company. 

Families take this opportunity to reacquaint themselves with extended members, share a feast, and give thanks for the bounty in their lives. Some even dress up in costume, involve kids in learning activities, or put on plays to teach the young ones about the traditions. But much of what we have taught about this holiday is incorrect. It is time for us to evaluate our thinking.

Other Perspectives

While many folks view Thanksgiving as a joyous holiday, many Native Peoples do not see Thanksgiving in this light. For them, Thanksgiving marks the start of domination by outsiders that has lasted to this day. Many of the ancestors died due to conflict, plagues, and even being taken into slavery. Their viewpoint must be taken into account as well. 

There are so many different cultures in our neighborhood. But since Thanksgiving is an American and Canadian event, these celebrations are foreign to many people. Although, most cultures include celebrations for the harvest time.

So, it is time for a culture shift at this time of year. Some of the changes involve stopping some traditional activities, shifting our focus for the holiday, and for some aspects, we may need to invent new traditions.

Making “The Shift” Happen

Focus on Giving Thanks: A mind shift is needed to validate the meaning of Thanksgiving. One way is to focus on giving thanks.

What Really Happened?: Another path is to bring everyone up to date on the full historical viewpoint surrounding this holiday. For kids in this age bracket, they can locate the facts in several different ways from reading primary research material to enjoying an accurate historical game about the first Thanksgiving. Inclusion and diversity need to be a part of our experience.

Know the Details Yourself: But the devil can be in the details. What are some resources to accomplish this shift in thinking whether we are learning about Thanksgiving in schools, at home, or during our celebrations?

Decide What to Continue and What to Stop

To Do Stop 
Teach about the modern-day traditions- foods,  family get together, activities, Using materials that do not tell about the viewpoint of the Natives as well
Focus on “giving thanks” – there are many resources, both native and otherwise, with this focusSpreading the myth that this was a joyous time for the Natives
Decorate your home and table with natural elements from your area – leaf wreath, pumpkins, apples, wildflower arrangements,Using any depictions of the Natives that are not true to history (tepees, feathers as headdresses, riding horses)
Use credible sources such as museums, native organizations to correct your viewpoint about ThanksgivingBe suspicious of ready-made activities as many are based on false impressions
Include both sides of the story about Thanksgiving and the effect on the two groups of people  – Pilgrims and NativesDescribing only 1 side in detail. 
Acknowledge that many Natives do not view this holiday as a celebrationAssuming everyone views historical events from your perspective
Understand that Natives in our society participate in many of the same ways we do. They are our neighbors, perform the same jobs as we do, and share many of our most treasured values. Seeing Natives as those people who dress in historical clothes and live in a hunter-gather lifestyle.

Helpful Resources for Kids 9 to 12

History Detective – Plimouth Museum: Have your kids take part in this interactive adventure to learn about the true facts in an engaging way.
There is an informative teacher’s guide on the site as well. The guide is extensive and focuses on the facts as well as the responsibilities of being a historian. There is even an engaging culminating task that would interest many students.
At this site you can engage in a virtual field trip, too.

!621: A New Look at Thanksgiving (National Geographic) This would make an excellent resource book as it includes detailed information about the times and is historically accurate. Some kids this age might find it difficult to read.

Squanto’s Journey: In this story, Squanto does meet some Europeans, but he is taken captive. He arrives in Spain as a slave but eventually makes it back home, only to find out that his family has died from the plague that the European travelers carried with them to the new world.
The story is told from Squanto’s point of view, and may need some explanations from an adult to understand the implications of the events.
There are more stories about Squanto for further investigation.

Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy In Pilgrim Times: The book includes photos from Plimoth Plantation of a young Wampanoag boy. The life of this tribe is described in detail but from a young boy’s viewpoint.

Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl: The book includes photos from Plimoth Plantation of a young Pilgrim girl The life of the settlers is described in detail but from a young girl’s viewpoint.

National Geographic has a kid -friendly language account of the first Thanksgiving. Along with the information are more links to other information about native cultures.

Thanksgiving: A Native American View by Jacqueline Keeler: The author expresses her personal opinion about Thanksgiving while explaining the Native viewpoint. Many references are made to the historical perspective. This is a good opportunity to discuss differing viewpoints.

Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag: This undelivered speech explains the facts of history from a native point of view. In 1970, it was not welcome at an anniversary celebration of Thanksgiving.  

And here is a YouTube video about the incident.

The People Shall Continue: While this lyrical description of the native way of life does not relate to Thanksgiving per se, it does clearly delineate the way of life of many different cultures. “The People Shall Continue speaks of resilience, adaption, resistance, injustice and resourcefulness of peoples who have survived for millennia and shall remain forever.” from a review of the book.

Circle of Thanks: by Bruchac There are 14 poems showing gratitude. The poems are based on native songs and prayers. It is not reflective of the Thanksgiving story, but it does illuminate that many tribes have a very similar philosophy.

Background Information

 A History Lesson: Thanksgiving   Check out your misconceptions about Thanksgiving.

 Decolonizing  Thanksgiving – A Toolkit for Combating Racism in Schools       The author of this blog provides a comprehensive list of resources for both parents and teachers. The resources reach far beyond the Thanksgiving Day theme. The implication is that many people need to learn more about Native cultures.

It is never too late to infuse your family traditions with inclusiveness.

Related Posts

5 Powerful Strategies for Using Storybooks to Combat Racism: Young Children  Use these storybooks to help your child understand diversity. Research shows that kids notice racial differences as toddlers.

5 Powerful Strategies for Using Media to Combat Racism: Kids 7 to 12   See the best videos and books to combat racism for kids aged 7 to 12. Keep your kids engaged and discussing diversity and inclusion. Give them strategies to use to stand up to racism.  

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