How to Shift your Teaching at Thanksgiving Time: With Young Children


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

A mind shift is needed to validate the meaning of Thanksgiving. One way is to focus on giving thanks. Another path is to bring everyone up to date on the full historical viewpoint surrounding this holiday. Inclusion and diversity need to be a part of our experience.

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 3 to 8

Llama Llama Gives Thanks  The Llama Llama books are loved by toddlers. Start teaching the traditions about Thanksgiving early with one of the Llama Llama books. The illustrations will delight your LO. This is an opportunity to teach rich vocabulary that will be significant for a lifetime.

The Night Before Thanksgiving: The story about Thanksgiving family traditions is told in rhyme, based on the structure of the well known poem “The Night Before Christmas.” It is a whimsical approach to what happens in many families at this time of year.

Thankful: Thankful is an award winning rhyming book that demonstrates that every one has things to be thankful for in their lives – waitresses, firemen, gardeners and even poets.

Thanksgiving in the Woods: Based on a real story, this book explains a family tradition of enjoying the woods for Thanksgiving dinner. From the information, you could start a discussion about your family traditions at this time of year.

Thanksgiving is for Giving Thanks!:  As a first Thanksgiving book, kids learn some things about family traditions at Thanksgiving time. It is a suitable length for a toddler

I Am Thankful: Follow three different families as the author explains their various traditions at Thanksgiving time. Since this book was published in 2020, it approaches the season more inclusively.

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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