Celebrating Thanksgiving at your Childcare Center

We’re headed into a very fun time of year for childcare centers: the holidays. You’ll find plenty of fun activities to engage children’s minds and bodies as you work toward helping them meet developmental milestones for their age.


Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American holiday. And while many people see it as an opportunity to eat a big meal and indulge in descendent desserts, it’s also a chance to talk about various cultures and discuss what a child is thankful for. Here are some ideas for ways to celebrate Thanksgiving at your childcare center.


Preparing for Thanksgiving by Discussing Various Cultures

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you can take some time to introduce children to various cultures. Tell children stories about the first Thanksgiving and the significance of the pilgrims inviting native Americans to join in the feast.


Take time to talk about why the pilgrims came to America from England. And throughout your discussions, use some Thanksgiving preschool songs to help make the story come to life for the children and ensure they remember the lesson. 


Teaching Children to Be Grateful

Gratefulness is a challenging lesson for preschoolers and young children, especially in modern culture. Children see ads everywhere for toys and consumer products that make them feel like they have to.


Parents will be delighted if you can make some progress in helping children understand this concept. And you could even build some time into each day for children to express their gratitude at school. But Thanksgiving is all about being grateful for what we have. 


Teach children to be thankful for the small things, such as:


  • The food they eat
  • The clothes they wear
  • The home they live in
  • The toys they play with
  • Their teachers
  • Family members
  • The ability to run, jump and play


Talk About Traditional Thanksgiving Foods

While adults get excited about the Thanksgiving feast, it can cause some anxiety for children because the table is filled with unfamiliar foods. After a loved one has worked hard to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving feast, it can be challenging to watch a child turn up their nose at the food or claim that they don’t like it.


Gaining some familiarity with the foods in advance can be helpful. Show children images of a traditional Thanksgiving feast and discuss what they can expect. Tell the children how important it is to try new foods and thank the person who cooked the food, even if they don’t like it.


Practice putting small amounts of new food on a plate, perhaps even using pretend food or unique snacks at snack time that the child might not be familiar with. Ask the child to try the new food, even just once, to get an idea of what it tastes like before saying they don’t like it. 


While you certainly can’t replicate the Thanksgiving meal in your childcare center, you can help build some awareness for what the child will see. Some key dishes to talk about include:


  • Mashed potatoes and gravy
  • Green beans or green bean casserole
  • Ham
  • Turkey
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Stuffing
  • Yams
  • Pie


Thanksgiving Activity Ideas for Childcare Centers

As you try to communicate these valuable lessons to children, consider incorporating some of these activities into your lesson plans.


  1. Thankfulness Board

Print out various images of things a young child might be thankful for (see the list above for more ideas). Then ask the child to color the pictures and assemble them into a thankfulness board on a piece of construction paper. Invite parents to hang the thankfulness board somewhere prominent in the days leading up to Thanksgiving as a regular reminder to children.


  1. Uppercase and Lowercase Letter Pairings

You’ll have a little homework for this activity because you’ll want to print off fall/harvest images and the letter they start with. Make puzzles for preschoolers to help them with pairing the uppercase and lowercase versions of a letter. For example, use a turkey for the letter T and a pumpkin for the letter P. Put the uppercase letter on one side and the lowercase on the other. Laminate them into small cards and cut them in half so that the uppercase letter is on one side and the lowercase on the other. Invite the children to combine the two sides of the image to bring together the upper- and lowercase versions of the letter to start some letter recognition.

  1. Practice Counting and Number Recognition

Print off a generic grid pattern with ten spots on it and space in the upper half to put a card with a number on it. You can use the generic grid pattern all year round. But then print off numbers with fun festive images next to them, such as turkeys or cornucopias. Ask children to place pom poms on the grid based on the number written on the card. This will help in both number recognition and counting skills. Try to make the pompoms fall and have festive colors. You can reuse this idea with Christmas trees, wreaths, and green and red pompoms. 


  1. Paint with Turkey Feathers

Get feathers and finger paint and start creating a beautiful art project. Use the feather to paint on the paper for a neat-looking design. You can do the same thing with corn cobs to show children how regular items create various patterns and images.


  1. Read Books About Gratitude

Books are a great way to make thankfulness come to life in a big way. Review this list of books about gratitude to prepare for circle time at your childcare center. Children will learn from the various characters and scenarios the importance of thankfulness and how to be thankful for their everyday things.

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