Be sure to check out the other posts in the How To Homeschool For Free series too!
When my kids were all little, Thanksgiving meant talking about the Mayflower, the Pilgrims & some nice Native American Indians. Now, my kids are older and have more questions, so we have deeper discussions about it. With few exceptions, Americans today have very little experience with the kind of suffering and trials that our forefathers endured. I hope this list of Thanksgiving themed lessons will give you ideas for all of your students, no matter what their ages.
Did you know the Pilgrims spent many years in Holland before making the journey to the New World? They were Separatists from the Church of England and Holland allowed more religious freedom than England. Holland was a stepping stone for the Separatists to learn more about independent living and responsibility. Not all of the Separatists left Holland, but the small group who did changed history! Your older kids might enjoy reading this information and giving you the highlights of things they learned. Maybe take it further and have them research why the Separatists disagreed with the Church of England.
Smithsonian’s Plimoth Plantation is a real place in Massachusettes where you can go to learn about life for the early settlers. But if you can’t make it there for a field trip, you can visit online and do these free activities designed just for kids! or take a virtual field trip! This website is very comprehensive for learning about life for the first families to arrive. There are too many links to add here, so I recommend that you or your students browse and learn all you can. It’s an amazing resource! My girls are going to enjoy this as their history class for the week!
Read Write Think has a lesson that is worth looking at. Packing the Pilgrim’s Trunk is written for a classroom setting, but for those of us with multiple children in close-proximity grades, it would probably work just as well! It’s quite detailed in the resources you need, as well as lists of books that will be great for reading along with the lessons. It’s listed for grades K-2, but I can see this being fun for some older kids as well. If you don’t want to do all nine of the lessons, you could choose which ones fit your needs on the lesson page.
Cindy Downes of the Oklahoma Homeschool website has a very comprehensive unit for free all about Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. There are lessons on Squanto and the Wampanoag tribes that were friendly to the Pilgrims. Even if you don’t want to do a whole unit on it, there are almost endless links for printables, book lists, and activities for your teaching needs.
Not only does MayflowerHistory.com give a passenger list, it allows you to click on the names of the people and get their personal histories! You will also find the list of Mayflower passengers who died that first winter, a list of famous people who descended from Mayflower passengers, and various sources for reading more in depth about these courageous people.
Scholastic.com has a free virtual tour of the Mayflower as well as a short explanation of the voyage route and what caused it to get off course. If you click on the little speakers, the text will be read aloud. Sign up for the Virtual Field Trip and you will receive reminders of when the field trip is open, and also receive a series of letters from Lizzy, a fictional character based on historical records of life in the 1620’s . Also on Scholastic.com, you will find a “Webquest”. It’s a virtual treasure-hunt-of-sorts in an intellectual way. This particular quest asks 7 questions. If you don’t know the answer, you can click on a link that will provide the information, but you have to read it. It’s not just giving the answer.
The Mayflower was not the only ship that set sail. There was also the Speedwell, which leaked badly and had to turn back to England. Then you can read about what happened to those passengers on the Speedwell.
The First Thanksgiving
There are only 2 accounts of which foods were there. Here they both are, in Old English and also put into Modern English. You could use a Venn Diagram to compare what we eat to day to what they ate that first year and if you are looking for recipes that are true to what the Pilgrims really ate, you can see this list of recipes that you can make.
Activities & Games
For the little ones, making a lapbook might be fun, and Preparation Education has several that are related to Thanksgiving.
Hubbard’s Cupboard also has a unit on the First Thanksgiving that has poems and literature recommendations, as well as cross-curricular activities.
Scholastic.com has ideas for using an English-Pilgrim translator so the students can write a play with some proper Pilgrim language! It looks quite fun!
I love that Thanksgiving is the kick-off to the Christmas season. It gives us a chance to teach & remind our children that this life is a blessed one. We can remember those we have lost and give extra love to those around us. Even in this tough economy, we are much better off than those first Pilgrims who set foot on new land. We have so much more than they could ever have imagined possible.