Thanksgiving is almost here and if you have a young child, the main visual in their minds is TURKEY. And it might be for you, too. The Thanksgiving dinner is a huge part of the holiday season and a special time to spend with family or friends over a delicious meal. But it’s not the only or most important part of the Thanksgiving season.
We’d all be lying if we said that the little turkey handprints your preschooler brings home from school before Thanksgiving aren’t adorable. But there are other ways to teach your child about the meaning of Thanksgiving that aren’t arts and crafts.
Much of understanding thankfulness has to do with understanding how others live. To understand being thankful for family, children need to understand that not everyone has a family—to understand thankfulness for food, children need to understand that some people don’t have a kitchen full of food.
Find a volunteer opportunity that you can share with your kids during the holiday season, and be vocal and communicative about the experience from beginning to end. Before you volunteer, talk about what you are doing, why you are doing it and who you are doing it for. Talk about what they might see, what they might feel and what they might be asked to do. Once you have finished the experience, sit down and ask questions that inspire discussion.
This whole process might be outside of your comfort zone as well, but challenge yourself to live out the season by being intentional about understanding thankfulness and the act of giving back.
2. Walk (or jog!) for a cause
A walkathon, jogathon or even a marathon (for older teens) is a great challenge to take on before the holidays. Search for an event that is local to your hometown and a cause that your family supports. Then, start training! Make a calendar to countdown to the big day and challenge your kids to prepare with you. You can even involve your extended friends and family by having them sponsor your walk or run—with your help, invite your kids to take the lead in talking to friends and family about the cause and why they would like to be sponsored.
3. Practice thankfulness
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Each morning before school or at night before bed, ask your child to name 5 things they are thankful for, and in return, share 5 things that you are thankful for as well. Challenge your kids (and yourself) to be specific to that day, not just general things like “dinner” or “their bed.” Give them communication prompts and ideas to inspire them to reflect on their day, their actions and their blessings.
One night, you can ask them to name something that they are thankful for at school, another night it could be something in nature, or something that makes them laugh—push them to think about the big and little things to be grateful for in their lives.
4. Go to a pumpkin patch, and then visit a senior center
The pumpkin patch is a go-to holiday activity. But instead of picking up pumpkins and bringing them home to carve, take them to your local senior-living center and donate them. Call around ahead of time to find a center that knows you are coming and will accept the donations—most centers will have visiting hours and welcome company for their residents, especially from children.
Deliver the small pumpkins you have collected to the residents and take time to talk with them. Not only is communication with children extremely health for the senior residents, but it’s also eye-opening for children who might not have elderly grandparents or friends as active participants in their lives. Hearing the stories, understanding how to engage in conversation and understanding how elderly residents live is a very important experience for children.
5. Write ‘thank you’ letters
Right before Thanksgiving, take time to sit and write ‘thank you’ letters with your child. Make a list of all of the people that make their lives better. This list might include their teacher, the mailman, the garbage-truck driver, the check-out lady at your local grocery store… anyone that is a regular in your lives that would appreciate a thank you, and would make your child stop to recognize their contributions. Think outside of the box and avoid only writing letters to family.
By giving your child opportunities to understand what being thankful truly means, you are giving them an opportunity to recognize Thanksgiving as so much more than a day to eat turkey and pumpkin pie.