The busy holiday season is the perfect time for introducing history in the classroom. Students are naturally excited and filled with anticipation. Take advantage of this winning combination by providing hands-on activities and projects that bring Thanksgiving history alive!
Use resources that explore what the historical event was really like on a personal level, to develop context and background information. The following picture books by Kate Waters and Russ Kendall are a few of my favorites. They have real photographs of children reenacting how everyday life might have been during the Mayflower voyage and Pilgrim times.
Sara Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl
Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy
Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times
For ages 7-10, review the “If You Were There…” series to see if it meets your needs. It is part of an engaging series written for many historical events and topics. If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 by Ann McGovern and Anna DiVito works especially well as a whole-group or small-group read-aloud. It is written in a question-and-answer format, which is conducive to discussion and a motivator for further research.
Hands-on projects and activities can help students engage and connect with Thanksgiving history. Here are a few examples:
- Compose a menu from Pilgrim times and a menu for a modern Thanksgiving meal and compare meals.
- Integrate art projects such as the pilgrim boy and pilgrim girl activities in this Thanksgiving art projects unit (from Art for All Seasons).
- Research online to find out what kinds of toys Pilgrim children used and games they played during Pilgrim times. Play the game(s).
- Research what type of clothing Pilgrims wore for every day or for special occasions and why.
- Download this history pockets unit to extend learning with activities such as: writing a newspaper article about settlers who disappeared from Roanoke Island, making a map of Jamestown, creating a journal about living on the Mayflower, and writing the Mayflower Compact (from History Pockets: Colonial America).
- Research online to find out details about the weather in the 1620–1621 time period. Discuss what impact the weather and seasons had, and how they affected the decisions and lives of the Pilgrims.
- Compare what a Pilgrim boy or girl might have felt thankful for and what your students feel thankful for now.
- Research the conditions of travel on the Mayflower. Have students pretend that they are a children traveling on the Mayflower and write about what they do during a day on the journey.
Engage students in projects that encourage critical thinking about events.
- What was life really like for people living during a specific time in history?
- What impact did a historical event have on the way things went after?
- How were people’s feelings, perspectives, and actions influenced by the event?
It is also a good skill for students of all ages to compare historical texts and check for consistency of information.
Here are additional resources from Evan-Moor that help students make connections with history:
History Pockets, Intermediate: Colonial America, The American Civil War, The American Revolution, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Explorers of North America, and Moving West.
Art for All Seasons, (for grades 1–4) provides art projects from all four seasons to enhance your lessons, such as a harvest cornucopia, Chinese New Year dragon, portraits of Washington and Lincoln, colorful windsock, and patriotic mobile.
Marti Beeck enjoyed volunteering in her three children’s classrooms so deeply, that she returned to school to earn her CLAD teaching credential. For the next thirteen years, she worked as a classroom teacher in grades 1-3. Her experience as a primary classroom teacher, as well as adult school and intervention for elementary and high school, was inspired by her background in psychology and interest in brain-based learning. Marti currently works in the field of educational publishing as an editor.