Six Thanksgiving Games

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We’re celebrating Thanksgiving without extended family this year, and no doubt your family is, too. But don’t think little… Think big! To make the holiday special for the kids, I still wanted a big feast, special recipes, the parade on TV, and lots of silly or thought-provoking games. While recipes simmer in the kitchen, treat your kids to the following:

Turkey Feather Float:

For this first game, we took turns blowing a craft feather up in the air. The player than shouts out a Thanksgiving food (Sweet potatoes! Cornbread!) and then gives another huff to keep the feather afloat.

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It’s a lot trickier than it sounds!

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Kernel Counting:

Candy corn isn’t vegan, but we had some in the house for non-vegan family and it was the perfect seasonal candy for this activity. Give each player a bowl or plate filled with candy corn as well as an empty plate and a plastic spoon.

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Set the timer and see who can transfer the most kernels in one minute. Bonus parent move: you’re sneaking in some math, too! If you have big kids and want to make it trickier, have players hold the spoon in their mouth, instead.

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Potato Roll:

You’ll earn super-silly points for this one: Take a few extra potatoes from your mashed potato pile (round red potatoes worked best), and have kids move them across a room using only their nose. First one across is the hot potato!

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The kids not only got a kick out of this, but then wanted to play potato toss and potato soccer. On a rainy Thanksgiving day, why not?

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Thanksgiving Menu:

Print out a colorful menu template and and then talk your kids through the meal, everything from apps to dessert. It was fun for Travis to see it all written up, and older kids might want to write out the recipes themselves!

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Thanksgiving Poll:

While chatting with relatives (whether in person or over Zoom!) poll them on their favorite Thanksgiving foods, whether during the main course or at pie-time. Travis then tallied up the results in two ways.

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We used a bar chart for the main course answers and a pie chart (ha) for the dessert answers. More sneaky holiday math!

Thanksgiving Chatterbox:

This classic origami game is easy to adapt for Thanksgiving. We used a template from Raddish Kids with funny suggestions hiding behind the numbers like “Pretend it’s windy for the next 5 minutes” or “Make up a song about pumpkins and sing it”.

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Your kids can easily come up with their own actions, too. Needless to say, the chatterbox had us giggling around our dessert table. The above link has a reminder on the rules of the game, as well as a how-to for folding the chatterbox paper.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Turkey Play Dough

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After having fun with a construction paper turkey craft, I wanted a version Veronika could more readily create all by herself. The solution? Play dough turkeys!

To start, I needed a batch of brown play dough and turned to an old favorite recipe for pumpkin pie-scented play dough that fit both color and season. It does require cooking, but is remarkably easy. In saucepan, combine:

2 and 3/4 cups flour

1 cup salt

4 teaspoons cream of tartar

2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups water

Cook over low heat, stirring with a spatula, until the mixture pulls from the sides of the pan. Let cool on wax paper, then knead a few times and it’s ready to go!

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I set out balls of the play dough on a tray along with: wiggle eyes, pipe cleaners (cut in half, which is an easier length for my toddler), bright feathers, and triangles cut from orange craft foam for beaks.

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Veronika loved it when I showed her how to make balls for heads and bodies, then decorate like a little turkey.  She very soon started her own version. “It’s Mr.Turkey!” she said, proudly.

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From there, she was off and running with her own creations. She loved poking pipe cleaners and feathers into the soft dough.

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The biggest hit, though, was adding wiggle eyes, which were “cheeks” and more, according to her narration.

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It turned out the craft foam “beaks: could be used more like little turkey feathers, too!

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Every once in a while she would lift the dough to her nose to inhale deeply. “It smells really good!” she said of the pumpkin pie spice.

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For fun, I also made a flatter turkey body and head for her to decorate, and we added looped pipe cleaners and smaller feathers to this one.

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After that, she kept playing with all the materials for a while… So long in fact that it kept her up past her normal nap time!

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Gratitude Pumpkin

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We’re gearing up for a cozy Thanksgiving just as our family of four, but that only has us thinking all the more about what we’re thankful for or missing this year. One neat idea is to write down all the ideas your family can brainstorm… on a pumpkin!

As the kids came up with ideas (and mommy, too!), I wrote down all their words in permanent marker. Travis named favorites like Star Wars, friends and play dates. Don’t discount a toddler’s ability to name the things they love; that counts as the first step toward feeling grateful.

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Veronika also wanted to scribble with markers as I wrote, which meant our final pumpkin wasn’t “perfect”. But I loved this touch of reality on it.

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The resulting gratitude list was so simple but beautiful, and will make the perfect centerpiece for a Thanksgiving table!

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Thankful Tree for Thanksgiving Gratitude

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This collaborative family project works either as a countdown to Thanksgiving day, or simply as a craft to put together all in one go as the holiday approaches. Ours was sort of a mix of the two!

To start, cut open a brown paper grocery bag and cut into the shape of a tree with a trunk at the bottom and a few branches near the top. Attach to a wall with masking tape.

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I next cut leaf shapes from red, brown, and orange construction paper, making enough so there would be one for each day of the month until Thanksgiving.

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If you’re using the tree like a countdown, ask your kids each morning to name something they’re thankful for as soon as November starts. The response might be prompted by the day itself; for example on the day we had bright sunshine, we were thankful for the sun (and another day, rain!).

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We didn’t start on the first of the month, so we also had a day with a big brainstorm session to catch up. There are no wrong answers when it comes to this tree, and it’s fun to include big sibling ideas (Root beer! Star Wars!) with little sibling favorites (Bicycles! Puppies!).

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Even the littlest siblings can help attach a leaf to a branch.

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By the end you’ll have a beautiful tree full of family thanks.

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Create-a-Turkey Tray

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This art project works well as a solo activity to keep preschoolers or elementary school kids busy while you prep a Thanksgiving day feast. And with a toddler, it becomes a fun craft to do side-by-side!

To set up the tray, I cut large circles from brown construction paper for turkey bodies and smaller brown circles for heads. I then added “feathers” cut from construction paper in multiple hues, and orange triangles for beaks. Finally, add piles of wiggle eyes, glue sticks, and additional sheets of paper to be the background.

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From here, big kids can assemble their own turkey!

I showed Veronika first how to choose a large brown circle (“What shape is it?” I asked her), and to rub the glue stick on the back so we could press it to one of our large squares of paper.

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Next we added a small circle for the head. As she glued this one down, I pointed out the size difference between the small and large!

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We then named the colors as we glued down each feather. She also proudly pointed out that the orange beak was a triangle shape!

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She loved the wiggle eyes on the tray, so I gave her a small cup that she could dump out and refill a few times. Don’t forget to glue two onto the turkey!

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You can let your toddler make a more free-form “turkey”, too, which is a great part of the art process. I love crafts like this where we end up with one that looks like its “supposed” to and another that is authentically Veronika’s.

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Thanksgiving Turkey

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If a painted handprint turkey is too messy or squirmy an ordeal with your toddler, consider a traced outline of a hand instead this Thanksgiving! This turkey was particularly fun for Veronika to decorate because it doubles as sensory play.

First, I placed her hand flat against a paper plate and traced with pencil. Don’t worry if your outline is wobbly or missing in places; you can always fill in the gaps with an approximation.

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After the outline was traced, we colored in the turkey with brown crayon, and then decorated with materials from our craft bin. Veronika loved gluing down dried beans…

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…plus pouring extra beans from cup to cup for a while!

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Meanwhile, I added a few brightly colored beads on each “feather” and drew a beak and wattle as the finishing touch.

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For fun, I traced my own hand for us to decorate as well. Now we had a mommy turkey and a baby turkey!

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Rainbow Turkey

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I love capturing handprints at holidays, and I was so thrilled that Veronika held perfectly still for this one! It’s yet another cute craft to celebrate turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday.

To make a turkey with a multi-colored feathers, paint your child’s thumb and palm with brown washable paint. I then painted two fingers yellow, one red, and one green.

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Press firmly onto construction paper, as flat as possible, and you’ll have a little turkey! You’ll need to work quickly for this step (hence no pictures) and I recommend having wipes ready to clean off your toddler’s hand right away.

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Once the paint dried, it was simply a matter of adding a beak, eye, legs, and wattle from marker. Don’t forget to add the date on the back of this one; it’s a keeper!

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Thanksgiving Place Mat

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It’s never too soon to teach even the youngest kids about thanks and gratitude. Although these concepts are a stretch for a two-year-old to comprehend, certainly Veronika knows what she likes! And that’s the foundation for giving thanks down the line.

We flipped through a magazine together, and whenever we came to an image of something she loves, we cut it out.

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Don’t limit yourself! Even something as simple as bicycles thrill my little toddler these days, so those were clipped out and added to our pile.

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Likewise for images of dogs and beaches and pizza.

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Soon we had a neat little assortment, and she used a glue stick to help me attach the pictures to a background of brown construction paper.

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Cover with clear contact paper to protect against spills and you’ll have the perfect toddler place mat for Thanksgiving day!

Feather Printing

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Not to be confused with feather painting, the idea with this craft wasn’t to paint with a feather but to make images of feathers on paper. The resulting craft makes a great piece of Thanksgiving artwork!

I cut small sponges into shapes roughly resembling feathers (although I confess some looked more like leaves). Our sponges had handles, which makes it easy for Veronika to grasp them, but regular kitchen sponges would work, too.

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Next I set out plates of paint in harvest colors, and showed Veronika how to dip in the paint and then press onto paper.

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She loved the little images that appeared. She was so proud when she could make the sponge as flat as possible for a clear print.

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As a variation, we then painted directly on a few craft feathers.

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These made fun prints when pressed down onto the paper, too!

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“Look what I made!” she proudly said when we were done, and narrated back all the paint colors.

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I love seeing her take pride in her artwork.

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The Family Kindness Challenge

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As with every holiday this year, coronavirus means that Thanksgiving is going to look a little different. We stoked the excitement for a socially distant Halloween with a full month of activities, and while we’re not being quite that ambitious before Thanksgiving, we did set a goal of performing kindness activities as a family this month. Here’s a round-up of 9 ways to say thanks and be kind!

Thanks 1: Start a Kind Chart

Kindness starts at home, so the first project was to make a chart all together that would help us track our progress over the next month. We decided this could mean both actions the kids took on their own, or the activities we intended to check off as a family.

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Veronika especially loved helping add stickers for decoration! Travis, meanwhile, was proud when he helped his sister find a missing toy, earning himself the first sticker on the chart.

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Thanks 2: Character Feelings

Talking about what the characters in favorite stories are feeling has been shown to correlate with a greater sense of empathy. So raid your bookshelf and get started!

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We chose an old favorite (Corduroy) and Travis loved pointing out the bear’s emotions on each page. “He’s sad here,” he said, or, “He’s feeling surprised!”  when he noticed his lost button. Veronika parroted back each emotion we mentioned, so it was great social-emotional learning tool for a toddler, too.

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Thanks 3: Send Snail Mail

On a beautiful sunny afternoon, we headed to our town’s tourist center and stocked up on town postcards.

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The kids loved filling these out for all their cousins. Travis was in charge of writing words, and Veronika added scribbles. Silly Bugs Bunny stamps added to the joy we hope  the recipients would feel upon receipt.

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This was a great way to make the kids feel connected to cousins around the country, especially knowing we won’t see them this holiday season!

Thanks 4: Try a Meditation Exercise

Mindfulness is so key for kids. Not only does it count as kindness to yourself but it extends to others, too. So one night this month we took a pause first to think about what mindfulness was. Both kids loved taking big calming breaths in!

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Next, have everyone sit and imagine offering kindness to themselves. Then imagine offering kindness toward some one else, whether a friend or pet or family member.

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I was proud when Travis said he was picturing a classmate! It helped him understand the lesson when we followed along with a 3-minute Kindness session from the free app MyLife.

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Thanks 5: Leave an Anonymous Message

Here was a fun idea! After giggling our way through a silly library book, we made hand-written notes about how much we had loved it, then slipped it into the pages.

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We loved imagining the next family who would be snuggling up to read together, and their double-delight at finding our note inside.

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Thanks 6: Learn a New Language Together

Since research has shown that bilingual children can better grasp other’s perspectives, we decided to sit down and study one together! I avoided languages I already know so that Travis and I really could start from scratch through the DuoLingo app.

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Who knows how far we’ll get, but if nothing else we got some laughs out of a little learning together!

Thanks 7: Help a Selfie

Even as we all keep to our socially distanced bubbles, now more than ever is a time for those little kindnesses. To wit, while we were on a local walk with selfie stops along the way, we realized two friends might want help with their photo so they could be in it together. Their huge smiles were such a warming reward! They even asked us to take a quick video clip.

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And then it was time for our selfie!

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Thanks 8: Set up a Free Snack Table

‘Tis the season for holiday deliveries, and this year is sure to be even busier than usual. Help those everyday heroes with this kindness idea, which takes only a moment of extra thought on your next grocery trip.

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I stocked up on individually-packaged goodies like mini cereal boxes, chip bags, and pretzel packs, and then we decorated an old box. First, line the sides with colorful construction paper (or even wrapping paper!).

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Kids can add scribble or write notes of thanks, depending on their age. Our message on top said: “USPS, UPS, Amazon, FedEx, please take one!”

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Thanks 9: Talk about Extras

It’s hard for kids to grasp sometimes just how much they have to be thankful for. So after receiving new books, I sat down with Travis to discuss how some households didn’t have any books. Could he think of extras to donate, now that he had new ones?

This activity works equally well with children’s old toys, especially as the holidays approach. I was so proud of Travis selecting two books to send to our library’s donation bin.

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That was nine kindnesses, but there’s even more we want to do in the future! Once people are congregating in common spaces again, we plan to leave spare change in the money slot of a vending machine, for example. We also brainstormed assembling care packages for children in the hospital or heroes of the COVID-era like first responders and teachers.

One thing is for sure, kindness keeps on giving!