For our Thanksgiving lesson plan, we always read a selection of two to three stories on every holiday or event. Most authors share different pieces of information and by reading several selections on a particular topic, the ideas become more ingrained.
I have found that providing an activity to correspond with selected readings not only keeps the information fresh, but also provides a hands-on experience for those participating. Studies have shown that when items are processed by listening, seeing, and participating or doing, that more of this information is retained in long-term memory. Most of our learning is finished with a final project to enhance this long-term memory (it works with older students as well, I can recall most of what we studied this past year).
For Thanksgiving, we read about Christopher Columbus, the Mayflower, Santa Maria, and Pinta, as well as the Pilgrims and why they decided to sail to America. We studied the Pilgrim lifestyle, the Indians, and the First Thanksgiving. Even with having read many different books on all of these topics, the light bulbs definitely shone after the following activities were completed.
We get together every Friday with our homeschool group to participate in art/themed studies activities. Generally with holidays, we can dedicate two to three lessons for the holiday.
For our first project, we made a map of the voyage on white contact paper. We colored the continents individually, pasted them in place on the white contact paper, and tracked the starting point that the three ships sailed from Spain. This really made the idea come to life for the kids. We made boats out of cut a part egg cartons, toothpicks and construction paper sails. We tracked the distance of the voyage, the original number of people, and the final number of people once the destination was reached. Many kids then took their maps home and painted the water blue, completing their maps.
Our second week, we made Indian costumes and read stories about the Indians and their involvement with the Pilgrims. We made costumes out of paper grocery bags. If you cut the front, make a hole for the head and arms, kids can decorate and wear their costume. We finished the costumes by adding colored pasta necklaces and headband headdresses: you can color the pasta adding 1 tsp of vinegar and a few drops of food coloring in a bag with the pasta. Shake and let dry. The kids decorated their headdresses and their costumes with drawings of Indian art that we studied in books, as well as using tissue paper and other craft materials. The level of skill for this project depends on the age of the child.
Our last week we made a Thankful Tree. We discussed how the Pilgrims and Indians lived together in Plymouth Rock, the way they worked together to survive before their First Thanksgiving and what they were thankful for. We then made our own project about what we were thankful for. We worked with a brown cardboard surface. You can use boxes, construction paper, or corrugated board for the tree. Students drew a tree design and started cutting out handprints of their own traced hands. The hands represented the branches in the trees and they wrote on each hand what they were thankful for. We tried to have each child list three to four things they were thankful for, but many kids had very large trees to take home.
With the selected activities, our kids had a good introduction to the concept of the First Thanksgiving and study of this time period. My children still unroll their maps and take out their boats to relive the voyage.