The Thanksgiving holiday engages all the senses. In anticipation of the tastes, smells and family camaraderie of the season, students become fully absorbed in lessons based on this holiday's traditions. In the second grade classroom, teachers can take advantage of kids' enthusiastic mindset and plan thematic, cross-curricular activities.
The first Thanksgiving was attended by Pilgrims and Wampanoags. These cultures were very different. Explore their differences by using a Venn diagram to illustrate cultural differences, along with traits that are common to all cultures. Include the kinds of homes they lived in, clothing they wore, and the chores they did. To show similarity to our culture, discuss the kinds of things all people feel and need, regardless of culture. These could include physical needs, such as food and shelter, as well as emotional needs, such as love and respect.
Hang a large world map on the wall and measure the distance between Plymouth, England, and Plymouth, Massachusetts. Mark the distance with yarn and pushpins. To help students understand how far that is, ask them to name places they have traveled. Mark the distance between those places and their hometowns. Compare the difference. Discuss different methods of travel available during both time periods. It took sixty-six days for the Mayflower to arrive in the New World. Today, a cruise ship can make the journey in less than a week, and it would take less than a day by airplane. Create simple pie charts or bar graphs to illustrate.
According to a letter written by Edward Winslow, the Wampanoag's King Massasoit and ninety other members of the tribe came to the feast, and they brought five deer that they had killed while hunting. When hunting, some Native American hunters would leave "owner sticks" by their kill to indicate an animal belonged to them. This way, a hunter could continue hunting and come back to get the animal later. Owner sticks were customized by carving birds or animals into the stick, weaving handles or attaching feathers. For an art project, collect large sticks and raid the art closet for supplies such as feathers, beads and twine. Have students create their own owner sticks.
Discuss with students the things the Pilgrims would have been thankful for in 1621. Suggest creative ways for them to express what they are thankful for today. List one thing for each letter of the alphabet. Have students write a letter to their parents or someone else, telling them they are thankful for something specific that person has done. Each Thanksgiving season in the United States, the president “pardons” a turkey. Explain what it means to “pardon” someone, and ask students to write about a time they could have chosen to pardon or forgive someone.
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