Did you know that Thomas Jefferson originally opposed George Washington’s idea for a national Thanksgiving celebration, calling it “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard”? The holiday did not become official until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that a Thanksgiving holiday would be honored the last Thursday of November that year. Even then, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to sign a bill into law in 1941 before the last Thursday of November was the officially recognized day for Thanksgiving. Other presidents between Washington and Roosevelt issued their own proclamations for national days of thanks, including James Madison, who wanted to observe it on April 13.
Did you know that the “first” Thanksgiving that we honor–the communal dinner in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe–isn’t actually the first Thanksgiving? Celebrations to give thanks were a tradition back then in “The New World,” as settlers attempted peaceful relations with indigenous people, and it is believed that the earliest celebration took place in 1541.
Did you know that it’s widely believed that the pilgrims didn’t eat turkey at that 1621 dinner? “Wild fowl” were served according to firsthand accounts, but this could mean everything from chicken to geese. We do know they ate venison, lobster, but it’s also unlikely that other traditional foods like cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes (which hadn’t even been introduced to the region back then) were served.
Thanksgiving is a fun time of the year, and an educational one at that. The history of the holiday dates back to the earliest days of America, before our country was a country, and there are a lot of opportunities to learn about the United States’ past. As teachers, Thanksgiving affords us a plethora of material for educating our students on an array of topics, from history and literature, to health and nutrition.
Because the holiday is so old, there are a number of conflicting accounts of its history, which fosters healthy debate. And there are also a number of little known facts about Thanksgiving, such as the aforementioned tidbits. This keeps learning about Thanksgiving fun and versatile, because there’s so much you can do with the subject!
In the spirit of the season, check out some of these great Thanksgiving teaching resources for educating students about the holiday in engaging ways! And keep in mind all the interesting anecdotes about the history of Thanksgiving to ensure that your lessons are new and thought-provoking!
Scholastic is probably one of the largest and most renowned creators of resources for teachers, and they have an entire section on their site completely devoted to Thanksgiving resources, including lesson ideas, books, printouts, arts & crafts materials, videos, multimedia presentations, and interactive activities.
Who better to provide Thanksgiving resources than the Library of Congress, the government body charged with keeping and storing our country’s the most important historical and legislative documents. The Library of Congress has an entire Thanksgiving Teacher’s Guide, as well as a catalog of digitized primary sources that illustrate important moments in the history of the holiday. You can even sort through this catalog by which federal, state, and organizational standards they meet!
The National Education Association (NEA) is the country’s largest teacher’s organization, and as part of their efforts to foster active professional development, offer some great curriculum resources and lesson materials. The NEA also has a Thanksgiving section on their site’s lesson tools. These interdisciplinary lesson ideas are broken down by grade level and offer a plethora of resources across an array of academic subjects.
Teachers Pay Teachers is an open marketplace for educators that is highly popular among K-12 teachers. The site allows individuals to create “shops” where they are actually able to sell their lesson plans and materials. Naturally, because Thanksgiving is such an important day of the year (and a popular topic), there are a ton of Thanksgiving resources uploaded by users. You can do a site search for “Thanksgiving Lessons”, although the “Thanksgiving” category is currently featured on the homepage in anticipation of the day!
Larry Ferlazzo, an EduBlogs writer and a prominent voice in the educational sphere, published a list of “The Best Sites to Teach and Learn About Thanksgiving“. Though this post is five years old, it still serves as an incredibly detailed collection of websites that provide resources, videos, and information about Thanksgiving. The websites run the gamut, covering a range of education sites, government entities, media outlets, and individual bloggers. This is an excellent sampling of some of the best Thanksgiving teaching resources out there!
We have an array of Thanksgiving videos from educators and students just like you. Feel free to search for topics in the search box or create a Thanksgiving video of your own!