Five engaging thanksgiving activities for young children blog header

Five engaging thanksgiving activities for young children

Whether you are home with children of varying ages or you are an educator in a classroom, there are a few activities you can do with minimal prep and maximum impact that they will love! Now that Halloween is over, let’s not skip straight to Christmas just yet. I know some of you have your tree up already! No judgement 😉 

Sometimes it is hard to come up with fun and meaningful activity ideas that you can pull together quickly, but these five activities focus on multiple developmental areas with most materials already on hand! We have a lot to be grateful for, and here are some ways to get your children talking about it!

Thanksgiving sensory bin

thanksgiving sensory bin

How it works:

Sensory bins are always a favorite no matter which age group! Toddlers love it (supervised of course!) and even older elementary children enjoy it too. This particular bin is Thanksgiving-themed, and you most likely already have the materials at home or in your classroom. You can simply throw everything in the bin if you’d like, or you can take a more aesthetic approach and have the tools laid out next to the bin so that everything is spaced out and ready to go.

How it’s educational:

Sensory bins foster an atmosphere of pretend and open-ended play. It is relaxing and even therapeutic since there is no right or wrong way to play. The outcome is always different, and it allows children to use fine motor skills with scooping, pouring, and transferring. If you don’t want to use oatmeal, you can use uncooked corn kernels, dry beans, or even uncooked pasta! 

Why I love it:

This is something that all ages enjoy, and it’s so easy to change up when they seem to get bored (I even keep a little kinetic sand bin at my desk to play with when I’m stressed!). Sensory bins fulfill all aspects of the curriculum in one fun activity – social, emotional, physical, and cognitive! It can be done as a quiet activity and can be done as a social activity. I like to switch up the mediums when I see children getting used to it or add a few items. One week, I may add some fake pumpkins and the next week, a toy squirrel may end up in there. Keep them on their toes by changing it up! 

Tip:  Be sure to have children wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after using sensory bins.

Gratitude wreath

gratitude wreath

How it works:

This is a fun activity to do during Thanksgiving week or even on Thanksgiving Day to help remind us all what we are thankful for. You can start this activity by going on a leaf hunt and finding leaves outside. Then they can trace the actual leaves onto colorful paper OR have leaf cutouts ready to trace. Have the children then cut the leaves out. As a group, come up with things we are all grateful for. Give examples and share how we can all be grateful for different things. Younger children can draw pictures or cut out pictures from magazines of what they are grateful for. Then, using a piece of cardboard or cardstock, cut it into a circle and glue/tape the leaves to make a wreath! 

How it’s educational:

This activity includes fine motor skills with cutting and writing and also includes language. It’s great when children can share what they’ve made to help with their verbal and social skills. 

Why I love it:

Children LOVE to talk about themselves, so this is a great activity for them to be willing to share aloud with classmates or family members pretty easily. This is a timeless activity that can be saved and displayed each year, which is a nice keepsake. If you’re doing this as a family, you can have the children make grateful wreaths for each other. Instead of writing things you are grateful for, have them write things they are grateful for with a specific person. Then it can be presented as a gift to a sibling or another family member. 

Tip: Because there are many steps to this, and it can seem daunting to have to trace, cut, and write, consider splitting this activity into two parts so that it can stay enjoyable. If you don’t want to do a wreath but still want a keepsake, you can purchase a plain, white tablecloth and have everyone use fabric markers or sharpies to write one thing they are thankful for each year. This becomes a wonderful display for Thanksgiving day celebrations when you sit down at the table to eat!

Sponge painted turkey

sponge painted turkey

How it works:

This activity is so fun because who doesn’t love to paint? Grab a paper plate, some cut up sponges, and prepare to paint! Have your child use the sponges to dab paint all over the plate in browns, yellow, reds, and oranges (or any color they’d like, really). Then once dried, glue on the eyes, beak, and snood. If you want to get really fancy, you can combine the “Grateful Wreath” activity (see #2) with this one and make turkey feathers with what you are thankful for, and glue those to the back of the plate so they stick out! These are fun to make and to look at!

How it’s educational:

Children can learn the parts of the turkey and also learn what happens when certain colors mix together. Fine motor skills are strengthened with painting and gluing as well!

Why I love it:

It seems like more and more, children are not getting enough time to paint and explore colors and open-ended art. This activity allows children to have those freedoms by choosing their colors and technique. 

Tip: If a younger child has a hard time holding the sponge, use a clothespin as the “handle” to hold the sponge in place.

Grateful pumpkin pie

grateful pumpkin pie

How it works:

This is a fun variation of the grateful wreath where children can write one word they are thankful for on the “crust” of the pie. This can be done in two parts since it involves painting and drying. Have children paint plates a “pie color” like orange, brown, etc (or any color they choose!). Then once the plate dries, they can cut strips of “pie crust” and write one thing they are thankful for on each one. Then talk to children about equal parts and fair pieces for everyone! Encourage them to cut the plate into triangles the best they can. Once complete, they can be placed in a baggie and left at a learning center as a “puzzle” to see what friends are grateful for!

How it’s educational:

There is plenty of learning going on with this one! Writing, cutting, painting, and organizing are all part of the goals and objectives. Children can also share with other friends to see if they can decode the words on other pies. When everyone is done, have some actual pumpkin pie (or other flavors) to try while you talk about each other’s creations! 

Why I love it:

This is an activity that is so easy to put together and serves as a little puzzle, so children have to piece it together each time. I always love hearing what children are grateful for when they are not prompted or when they aren’t hearing what other children are saying. It can be so sweet and also hilarious! (I once had a child tell me they were grateful for their uncle’s dentures!). So when brainstorming ideas for this, try to have a one-on-one conversation so they aren’t as influenced by what the others say.

Tip: This can be fun to actually make into a puzzle by making each “slice” a different shape in some variation so that the children have to figure out the puzzle!

Dancing corn kernels

dancing corn kernels

How it works:

This is an easy science experiment that will allow children to really ask questions, make hypotheses, and learn about what works and what doesn’t. You’ll have to get some actual corn kernels for this activity and not the kind from your microwavable popcorn ;). Ask them questions such as “What would happen if I put the corn kernels in different liquids like water? Club soda? Vinegar?” Write down their guesses to check back later. This activity can be really fun to do with all ages since they will get super excited to see if their guesses are right. 

How it’s educational:

There’s so much about this activity that will spark their little scientist minds! Creating guesses and checking their guesses is a great introduction to the scientific method and how trying different things is necessary to come to a conclusion. Learning trial and error is such a key thing and what a great way to do so by getting corn to dance! Pouring the liquid and dropping the kernels also helps with hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills. 

Why I love it:

I’m always looking for fun activities to do that are easy and make me look like a fun, mad scientist! 😉  Plus, it’s not messy and will allow children to continue the lesson beyond these instructions to see what else they can try and why some worked and some failed.  It’s so open-ended that it truly excites me as a mom and educator! 

Tip: Have a dance party when you find the one that works! 

Obviously, this season can get chaotic and busy, but when you take the time to do these activities with your little ones, it allows you to slow down as well and reflect. So, my challenge to you is to also participate in what you are grateful for and allow yourself to be present with the children as they learn these new skills. There’s just so much to be grateful for if we just stop and notice!

HiMama activities database

Missy Knechel

Missy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 18 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 8, 9, 12 and 13 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.