Make Thanksgiving meaningful to children to link past and prese

November 21, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"Mrs. Prejean, Mrs. Prejean! I know how to spell Mayflower!"

The sweet 6-year-old calling my name was soon joined by her friends in a chorus of "M-A-Y-F-L-O-W-E-R!"

"Oh, how wonderful," I said. "You know the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to the New World."

They were all very proud of themselves, and rightfully so. History - even when it's disguised as a spelling word - can be exciting and empowering. Knowing how we got to this place in time can provide a basis for where we go from here.

Our children have been learning about that first Thanksgiving in 1621, how the Pilgrims invited American Indians to a feast that lasted three days.

Modern-day celebrations barely seem to last three hours. We fit the feast in between the obligations of our busy lives. As a result, the significance of the fourth Thursday in November can be lost on our children.


Perhaps we can bridge the gap between what happened a long, long time ago and how we live today.

I went searching for some fresh, simple ways to make Thanksgiving meaningful for children.

Here are some that we may try this year:

  • Announce that spilling is allowed. You'll startle the children and get a chuckle from the adults, says Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of "Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day."

    It's the imperfections that make a holiday memorable. One year a squirrel decided to join Newman's celebration. Her family still laughs about chasing the animal through the house.

    "It's those quirky, unusual things that make the holiday more memorable," Newman says.

  • Start a thankfulness journal. Ask people to write in it what they are thankful for. Put a child in charge of this, asking each person to make an entry, Newman recommends. Save the journal and read it each year at Thanksgiving.

  • Make a thankfulness video. Tape each guest saying what they are thankful for. It's really fun if you let a child take the video, Newman says.

    When you watch the video the next year, half the fun of it will be the angles - what the child got and what he didn't get.

  • Take a Thanksgiving quiz. Ask your guests to take a brief quiz to test their knowledge of the holiday. Need some inspiration? Check out the quizzes on these Web sites:;;

  • Create a gratitude wreath. You'll need an 18-inch diameter straw wreath, 3 1/2 yards of 1/4-inch elastic and leaves cut from construction paper in fall colors. Wrap the wreath in the elastic, securing the elastic at the top with a straight pin. As guests arrive, ask them to take a leaf and write down one thing for which they are thankful. Tuck the stem of the leaves in the elastic. This idea was adapted from the book "Together: Creating Family Traditions" by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes.

  • Go on a scavenger hunt. The exercise and fresh air will do everyone some good after a large meal, Newman says.

  • Teach each other a new task. Children could show their grandparents how to use the Internet or how to send an e-mail, Newman says.

  • Prepare Stewed "Pompion." Want to cook like the Pilgrims? Try the recipe for stewed squash on the Plimoth Plantation Web site at Children may have fun preparing it with you. If they don't like the taste, just think how thankful they'll be for peanut butter and jelly come Monday.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

The Herald-Mail Articles