Teaching The “First Thanksgiving” Story To Small Children

Photo Credit: Natasha Khan Kazi

You are allowed to supplement the education your children receive at school. You are allowed to teach them to think critically about what they are being taught in school. This does not mean you don’t appreciate and honor the educators in your life. Rather it means you honor your own lived experiences and values. So this Thanksgiving break, I taught my kids a multi-perspective story of the first Thanksgiving and what came after.

Is this topic too big for small children? I talked to my small children about slavery and the civil rights movement. So no, this is not too big a topic for small children. Below I share two great resources I found that helped me create my supplementary “First Thanksgiving” lesson.

Book: If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving

If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving is a treasure trove of information for kids ages 6-11. The author, Chris Newell, a multi-award-winning museum professional and proud citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, said it best, “The story of the Mayflower landing is different depending on whether the storyteller viewed the events from the boat or from the shore.” This book was illustrated by Winona Nelson, a member of the Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa. Buy it on Amazon ($8.99).

Photo Credit: Natasha Khan Kazi

A few takeaways from the book:

  • The Pilgrims were English colonists that intended to establish a new plantation within the English-occupied colony of Virginia. They missed their mark and landed in Plimoth, called Patuxet by the locals (aka the Wampanoag Tribe).
  • Colonists are people who leave their homeland to establish a land base, or settlement, in a foreign country.
  • Wealth for the colonists often meant owning land and accumulating resources, but the Native communities did not have that system of land ownership. Their success was measured by how much they contributed to the shared resources that sustain their community.
  • The Wampanoag tribe came to the English settlement and offered an alliance. Afterwhich, they traded local vegetable seeds (such as pumpkin, squash, corn, and beans) to the colonists and taught them farming methods.
  • After a successful first harvest, the colonist had a feast. 90 members of the Wampanoag attended and gifted four deer to the celebration. There is no written record of turkey being served, but it might have been.
  • As the settlers needed more land, the alliances broke, and settler vs. native wars began.
  • The Plimoth feast of 1621 was not called the first Thanksgiving until 200 years after it happened. During this time, many Americans already celebrated harvest feasts. But in 1865, the story of the first Thanksgiving at Plimoth rock surfaced. It was a popular narrative seen as uniting the country, and by 1870, it was in school books.

Activity: Rethinking Thanksgiving Celebrations

I also found this article, Rethinking Thanksgiving Celebrations, published by the National Museum of Native Indians (a part of the Smithsonian), enlightening. A few great resources and activities from this site:

  • Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address: This expression of gratitude is recited by Haudenosaunee people at community gatherings throughout the year.
  • Smithsonian Corn Necklace Activity: Make a beaded corn necklace and learn about the importance of corn. There is a brief intro video that shares the importance of corn as well. We had most of the items needed for the activity at home: 24 pony beads, pipe cleaner, and twine.

Of course, two resources can not capture the diverse perspectives of the native communities in America. I look forward to seeking new perspectives and learning more.

Closing

At the end of the lesson, I asked my kids, why do we celebrate Thanksgiving when bad things happened to our native communities?

The conclusion we came to, we can be thankful for all the blessings we have but also acknowledge our country’s history and work toward healing. Gratitude and empathy are not mutually exclusive.

Happy harvest, peace, and salam,
Natasha