The turkey is roasting, the cranberry sauce is resting and the pumpkin pie is good to go. It can only mean one thing: it’s Thanksgiving. One of our favorite holidays, it’s a time to gather with friends and family to celebrate all the goodness in our lives. But how do I teach my toddler about Thanksgiving?
This time of year presents so many wonderful opportunities to teach our little ones the important values of Thanksgiving, like gratitude, the importance of family and sharing what you have. So how do we teach and model these concepts in a way that the very smallest of children can understand?
Keep reading for some handy tips, advice, crafts and activities to help you teach your toddler about Thanksgiving – and keep them entertained over the long weekend at the same time!
How Do I Teach My Toddler About Thanksgiving?
Some of the values we celebrate over Thanksgiving can be quite abstract, maybe a little hard for toddlers to understand. But one important value that you're never too young to learn is gratitude. Start a conversation with your children about what you’re thankful for as a family. You could use some of these ideas to get started.
Talk About Gratitude
Gratitude is a super-feeling. Like a super-food, it fills us up, both physically and emotionally. Practicing gratitude can improve our sleep and immune systems, and release the happy hormones serotonin and dopamine.
This leads to being a generally nice person to be around, better friendships and closer social bonds. In children, a study published in 2019 found that gratitude correlates to happiness by the age of five. Encourage them young and watch your child bloom – and not just on Thanksgiving. Show them how to practice gratitude daily.
With toddlers, it may help to talk about their feelings. You could try a fourfold gratitude practice, based on Notice, Think, Feel and Do:
- Notice what you have to be grateful for.
- Think about why someone gave you a gift or was kind to you.
- Feel what it was about the gift or kind act that made you happy.
- Do something to show how you feel about the gift or kindness.
Discuss The Meal
Thanksgiving centers around the lavish feast. From the roast turkey and the mashed potatoes to the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, teach your toddler about where these traditional foods come from, how they’re prepared and how it nourishes their bodies.
Don’t worry if they refuse to eat any of it – it’s completely normal for little ones to try to take control when it comes to mealtimes (read our 10 tips for coping with picky eaters if you’re struggling with a stubborn tot!). Instead, gently tell them about how the celebration of these special foods is a way of giving thanks for the harvest and past year.
While you’re eating, here’s an easy way for all members of the family to show gratitude. Simply go round the table and have everyone say one thing that they are grateful for. You could even turn this into a game! All family members write or draw what they are thankful for on pieces of paper, which can then be read or acted out. Have a go at guessing who wrote/drew what!
Teach About Kindness, Honesty and Respect
It’s never too early for children to learn about kindness. Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how to respect each other’s differences in a way that’s simple and easy to understand.
Even young children understand that people don’t always get along nicely. You don’t need to pretend that the Pilgrims and Native Americans were the best of friends. It’s OK to be honest about the fact that they didn’t see eye to eye.
View the story as a chance to teach your toddler about conflict resolution. People may not always gel, but challenges can be overcome and they can come together despite their differences and help one another when needed.
What Can I Do With My Toddler On Thanksgiving?
Children learn best through play! Here are some great toddler thanksgiving activities to try this November.
Create A Thanksgiving Sensory Bin
It’s not just the food that’s exciting about Thanksgiving, it’s also a beautiful time of year. Bring together all the colors, smells and textures of fall for your toddler to explore.
Simply grab a large, deep tray and fill with a layer of corn, rice, oats or red and yellow pasta shapes. Lay out some fall items on top, such as pine cones, mini pumpkins, dried leaves and berries and cinnamon sticks. Add in some little cups and spoons for pouring and stirring and let them go for it.
Pop the whole shebang on a sheet or playmat for an easy clean-up – you don't want extra mess when you’re cooking up a storm in the kitchen!
Make Some Playdough Turkeys
These will keep your toddler entertained for hours while they wait for their turkey feast.
Simply whip up a batch of vanilla-scented play dough – we like this recipe – and provide a selection of feathers, googly eyes and foam pieces for the beaks and wattles.
Show your little one how to make two balls for the turkey’s head and body and leave them to decorate.
Read A Book
Whether you need to steal away a few moments of peace during the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving or you want to keep your toddler busy while you baste your bird, a book is an easy way to keep their little hands and minds occupied.
With bright and colorful pages, sensory elements and a story all about what it means to be grateful, try entertaining your little one with Bear Says Thanks. It’s all about Bear wanting to give back to his loved ones with a generous feast.
Feed The Turkey
Use Feed The Turkey to keep your toddler busy while you finish cooking Thanksgiving dinner. It’s an oh-so-simple and highly engaging activity that focuses on motor skills, counting and color – and you can create and set it up in literally a few minutes.
You’ll need a plastic jar or large plastic bottle, pom pom balls, plastic tongs, construction paper and googly eyes.
Take the plastic bottle and decorate it to look like a turkey: just glue two eyes and a beak on the front and cut some feather-shaped card pieces to stick on in a fan-shape on the back.
Now grab the pom poms, give your toddler the tongs and show them how to grab the balls and pop them down the jar’s neck, ‘feeding’ the turkey. That’s it!
Create A Thanksgiving Tablecloth
Another easy and simple toddler craft activity. Roll out a length of construction paper (or use the other side of a roll of old wallpaper) out on the floor.
Add a supply of coloring pencils and crayons and let them draw and color in their favorite Thanksgiving food, what they’re thankful for or leaves falling from a tree on a fall day.
Watch A Heart-Warming Movie
A little bit of screentime is not a cop-out! Family celebrations often translate into overexcited, tired kids and a soothing film can be just the job for calming everyone down (parents included).
Take an hour or so out to snuggle up with 'A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving', when Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and co try to organize a Thanksgiving feast. Things go wrong but the pals pull together and come to the understanding that the holiday is more about the celebration of friendship.
Dress Up The Turkey
Of all our wonderful toddler craft activities ideas, this one teaches little ones the value of working together as a team.
Make a large cut-out of a paper turkey, and grab some sticky paper and a bag of colorful feathers.
Next, gather the entire family, from tots to grandparents, and have them work together to create pretty and eye-catching feather patterns as they ‘dress’ the turkey.
Engage your toddler by asking them to identify each color and alternate between colors.
Thanksgiving Turkey Ring Toss
Make this sweet Thanksgiving ring toss ahead of the big day. It’s an ideal craft-and-game combo, is super-easy to do and needs only a few supplies, some of which you can use out of the recycling bin!
Image taken from https://handsonaswegrow.com/thanksgiving-turkey-ring-toss/
The idea is to bring children and adults alike together for a fun five minutes on Thanksgiving day – or at any time.
For the rings, you'll need paper plates, feathers and glue. For the turkey bases, use clean and empty coffee creamer bottles, brown yarn and a glue gun.
Cut holes in the middle of four paper plates and then get your toddler to decorate the rings with lots of pretty feathers and glue. This is a great busy activity for kids while you get on with food prep! Allow the rings to dry overnight.
Next, wind brown yarn all around four creamer bottles, using the hot glue gun to glue in place at the top and bottom, Screw the tops back on and you have your turkey bases!
Spread the ‘turkeys’ out and take turns to toss the rings over them.Need some more inspiration for toddler crafts & activities? Read about more easy fall crafts for toddlers.