Teach Kids About Thanksgiving (By Age)

Eva is in the first grade now and apparently this is the first year that she’s understood what Thanksgiving is about. She thought it was just a national eating holiday and the name of it was because we were thankful that someone (my mom) was giving us food. She legit thought it was all about gluttony. My bad.

To be fair, outside of the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special (which has just about nothing to do with American history), we haven’t spent a lot of time talking about Thanksgiving. It gets squished between Halloween and Christmas and somehow I’ve never given it any real attention and thank heavens for traditional school or Eva might have never have learned the word “pilgrim”.

Do you know the history of Thanksgiving? The real story is a lot muddier than the version we all got in elementary school BUT just as interesting and still worth celebrating. Personally, though, I wouldn’t give kids all the little details up front because I don’t think tiny brains can digest them properly without context. Instead, introduce the story early and add more details as time goes on, like this:


Walk them through a turkey scented room. Welcome to the world. The food is good here.

Age 1
Book: Little Turkey: Finger Puppet Book

This is a turkey. Happy Thanksgiving.

Age 2
Book: Where Is Baby’s Turkey?

The turkey says gobble gobble. Happy Thanksgiving.

Age 3
Book: Happy Thanksgiving, Curious George

Introduce traditional Thanksgiving foods and talk about where food comes from and how it’s cooked.

Age 4
Book: Llama Llama Gives Thanks

Introduce the idea of being thankful and talk about things you’re thankful for.

Age 5
Book: Thanksgiving Is for Giving Thanks!

Lots of different cultures around the world have a special holiday where they celebrate gratitude and feeling thankful. In America, our holiday is called Thanksgiving.

Age 6 – 7
Book: The Story of the Pilgrims

The Mayflower (and other boats) brought people to America from other countries. These people are called Pilgrims. There were people living in the area where the Pilgrims landed and we call them Native Americans. The Native Americans celebrated an Autumn Harvest every year and invited the Pilgrims to join them. This was the first Thanksgiving for the Pilgrims.

Age 8 – 9
Book: 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving (National Geographic)

The Native Americans in the northeastern part of America have a very distinct history but are often misrepresented in the media. For example, some books about Thanksgiving show the Indians surrounded by horses and tipis even though those would only be accurately associated with other tribes. (Even holiday decorations and greeting cards are good discussion points for this one.)

Age 10 – 11
DVD: Saints & Strangers

Many “lucky” accidents made it easier for the Pilgrims to survive when they arrived in America, including a widespread illness that tore through the area before their arrival, wiping out a huge percentage of the native population and freeing up space for the new arrivals. Unprepared for winter, the Pilgrims stole food such as dried corn from the graves of the deceased natives.

Age 12+
Book: Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

After 12, I’d say anything goes with American history although I warn you now that the true story has a lot of people doing awful things to each other. If you want to ease into it

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