This guide is all about planning a fun Thanksgiving with Toddlers. This holiday can be a bit confusing for toddlers and preschoolers who don’t really want to sit at a table eating for most of the day. As most parents know, getting a young child to eat a meal can be a challenge. In this guide, we break down some fun activities that may give you a few minutes to relax and enjoy the stuffing.
How to explain Thanksgiving to toddlers.
We all know the story of Thanksgiving. The pilgrims left England to escape religious persecution. They landed on Plymouth Rock and the native people there, the Wampanoag, taught them to farm the land. To celebrate their great harvest everyone sat down together for a Thanksgiving feast. For a basic retelling that is kid-friendly check out the History Channel.
The problem with this is that it ignores all that happened to the native communities over the next few centuries. Thanksgiving has become a bit harder to explain in recent years. It is even a struggle for teachers to find an appropriate way to present the story.
For very young children who are not able to understand some of the more complex elements of the Thanksgiving story, concentrate on the meaning of Thanksgiving, such as thankfulness, gratitude, and family.
Involving kids in crafts, cooking, and activities is a great way to enjoy family time, and begin talking about what it means to be thankful. It is all about creating memories and being in the moment. Think about starting a new tradition such as a family stroll between dinner and dessert or creating a Thanksgiving centerpiece together. We have some great ideas that might inspire you.
How to keep kids entertained while you prepare for Thanksgiving.
The Best Way To Get A Toddler To Help Set The Table
This is a great way to get kids involved in the preparations. You are able to check off setting the table and your child will expend some extra energy before sitting down for a long meal.
Grab your child’s Papap Pony and wrap her around her waist. Then grab placemats, napkins, silverware, and dishes that you will need to set the table for the meal. Decide what is safe for your child to carry and let her walk over to the table with each of the items. After she places the item on the table tell her to ‘trot’, ‘jump’, ‘skip’, or ‘run’ around the table or room with Papap two times before grabbing another item.
Once all the items are on the table, bring your child over and teach her how to set the table. If you are using place cards ask your child where each member of the family should sit. This is a good way to prepare your child for who is coming and to refresh their memory for members they may not remember.
Some young children are overwhelmed with many new faces or faces that they do not see often. Giving them a preview of who will be attending the meal is a great way to avoid awkward toddler meltdowns later. This is a great time to whip out those family photos and share some interesting facts about each person.
How To Make A Simple Thanksgiving Gratitude Tree For Young Kids
Thanksgiving trees or Gratitude trees have become very popular recently. They are a great DIY centerpiece and a way to get everyone in the Thanksgiving frame of mind. How you want to implement this idea is completely personal. There is quite a spectrum of ideas you can find from highly elaborate to simple paper taped to a wall. All are based on the simple idea of giving thanks.
We decided to use a small cypress holiday tree we found at our local market as we plan on having our little helpers redecorate it for the holidays. While it is too large for a centerpiece, the small tree is the perfect size for young children to be able to hang their gratitude cards themselves.
This year we went with a pony theme and made our gratitude ornaments in the shape of horseshoes. They are attached with simple twine you can get at any market.
How to keep kids entertained during the meal.
Expecting young kids to sit patiently while the adults sit and share stories is asking for trouble. It is best to be armed with a few easy activities that will entertain kids while you deal with your guests. Here are a few of our favorites.
Play-Doh Turkey: A great fine motor activity for toddlers
This is a simple activity that can be pulled together with just a few small craft supplies. Some you may even have laying around the house.
If you will not be home for Thanksgiving, here is a cute spin on the play-doh turkey idea that travels. Always good to be prepared.
How to set up a simple kids table.
We highly recommend setting up a kids' table where the young ones can get messy and make their own Thanksgiving fun.
We took a simple kids sized table and chairs and covered the table with butcher paper. Use large clips or double-sided tape to attach the paper to the table. Make sure to test the tape on the underside of the table. We then set out a can with markers and invited the little ones to draw their own placemats.
We covered an old tin can that we had lying around with colored paper and filled it with washable markers. The last thing any parent needs is marker staining their adorable Thanksgiving outfit before family photos.
For plates and glasses why not have your kids make their own. For a cute cup idea see Diva Of DIY. For the plates, simply grab some sturdy paper plates and invite your child to decorate with kid friendly non-toxic markers. Your young children may take such pride in their designs it just might be easier to persuade them to eat some veggies on their masterpiece. For some other paper plate Thanksgiving ideas check out Crafty Morning.
How to get kids and adults playing together.
Papap’s Thanksgiving Post: A Great Activity For Kids To Meet The Family
This simple activity is really about having your child get to know their family and friends. There are many ways to incorporate this game into your Thanksgiving. The easiest way is to hand out cards to each family member and have them pick a different family member to write a gratitude card to. Depending on how creative your group is, you can also provide fun decorations and paints to make the cards more personal. We stumbled upon this Gratitude Box idea from Meri Cherry that would be simply beautiful sitting on each place setting. We suggest replacing the stick with a small pencil similar to this one for something functional and beautiful.
Photo: Meri Cherry at mericherry.com
Next, after each guest has written their notes of gratitude wrap Papap Pony on your child’s waist and introduce her as the Pony Express. Have her ride up to each guest and take a letter to be ‘mailed’. Then gallop over to the intended recipient and deliver the letter. The receiver, then reads the gratitude card out loud. Repeat until all the letters have been delivered.
Feed The Turkey: How To Make A Family Stroll Before Pie More Fun
After a large meal, it is always good to get up and move around a bit before the dessert round. Why not make this walk around the neighborhood into a counting activity.
Prior to setting out make sure to present the Hungry Turkey for your small child to feed.
You will need:
- Tissue Box
- Brown wrapping paper or paint
- Red, Yellow, and Orange Construction Paper
- Wiggle Eyes or black pen
- Small seeds, acorns, or stones you find on the walk
- Papap Pony
- Take an empty tissue box and cover it with brown paper or paint. When wrapping the box be sure to cut an opening over the hole in the tissue box so that there is a hole for the mouth.
- Cut out a large circle in the orange paper to form the turkey’s head.
- Cut a small hole in the orange circle to make the turkey’s mouth.
- Paste or draw eyes on the large circle.
- Cut out a beak and snood from yellow and red paper then paste above the hole you cut for the mouth.
- Paste the feathers on the back of the box so that they stick up.
- Then grab Papap Pony and wrap her around your child’s waist. Have your toddler grab her reins and head out with the family for a Thanksgiving trail ride. Make sure to bring Papap's backpack or something to collect all the little treasures you will find on your walk. Look out especially for acorns and other seeds that Turkeys would love to eat.
- Once you have exhausted the ride around the neighborhood, head back with all the little things your toddler has picked up to feed the turkey. Place the objects in a bowl. Have your child roll a dice and call out the number that comes up. Next, have your child count out and feed that number of food objects to the turkey. Continue rolling the dice until you run out of food.
Caramel Apple Picking: How To Combine An Activity And A Take Home Treat
What screams fall and Thanksgiving more than apple picking. With this activity, you do not need an apple tree. A few trees with low branches are best, but anything that you can tie a string to will work. This is a spin on an egg hunt. Hang apples around your house and yard and let your child run around and find them.
You will need:
- A few small apples with long stems
- Twine or cotton string-strong enough to support an apple hanging from it
- Papap Pony
- Grab a few small-sized apples with long, strong stems.
- Tie twine or cotton string to a few branches or other structures you have decided to use, at different heights. Make sure that the end of the string is at a height your child can reach.
- Then tie the stems of the apples to the string.
- You have now made your apple trees.
- Wrap Papap Pony to your child’s waist and hand her a basket. If there are multiple kids this is a fun activity to make into a race for the most number of apples picked. Since kids will be running around, it is best for an adult to handle cutting the string for each apple picked. Once a child chooses an apple an adult will cut the string and allow the apple to drop into the child’s hands.
Once you have collected all of the apples it is time to cover them with caramel and other toppings. This is a fun way your guests can make party favors to take home.
What you will need for the Caramel Apple Station:
- 1 Package Kraft Caramel Bits
- 1 Tablespoon water
- 5 Apples
- 5 Wooden popsicle sticks
- Assorted toppings such as crushed candy, sprinkles, crushed cookies, crushed nuts, cereal
- Large microwave-proof mixing bowl
- Wax paper-lined cookie sheet
- First wash and dry the apples, making sure to dry them thoroughly. This will help the caramel stick to the apple.
- Next, pluck the stems off the apples and stick a wooden stick in the top center of each apple.
- Now place the toppings in separate bowls and set out for your guests to choose what flavors they would like. Make sure the toppings are crushed or are the mini size as big pieces of candy will easily fall off the apple.
- Place the caramels in a large microwavable bowl then add water. Melt in the microwave in 2.5 to 3 minutes stirring after each minute. You can then use a crock-pot to keep the caramel bits warm while everyone dips their apples.
- Invite your guests to choose an apple and dip it in the caramel, and then into the toppings. Some may find it easier to pour the caramel and toppings onto the apple. This will be something you can experiment with.
- After the apple has been dipped and coated, place it on the wax paper to set. Refrigerate 1 hour or until caramel is firm. This should give you enough time for the caramel to set and for your guests to enjoy their meal.
- When ready, place the apples inside a cellophane treat bag. Tie the opening with some string or ribbon and send them home with each guest.
**Remember to refrigerate your apples.
Thanksgiving is a special time for families and kids. We hope these few activities will inspire lots of family fun and togetherness this holiday. If you use any of our ideas for activities please tag us @papappony. We would love to see all the Thanksgiving fun!