Thanksgiving Unit Study
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Hello, November! Can you believe Thanksgiving is just around the corner?
We all love Thanksgiving for the yummy dinner, family visits and fun traditions! But it’s SO important to also remember the history of Thanksgiving — how critical it was to the founding of our nation. I love to teach my children that history every year in our homeschool.
It’s extra fun to continue the Thanksgiving theme through all of our subjects, essentially turning Thanksgiving into a complete, cross-curricular Unit Study.
This Thanksgiving Unit Study has Thanksgiving-themed activities for almost every subject, from science to art! It’s geared toward elementary school ages, but I also include my older kids and just assign them more thorough literature so they learn everything more in depth.
We like to use one Thanksgiving storytime each week through November, and then we complete the rest of this Unit Study in about 4 days the week before Thanksgiving, working a couple of hours on it each day. But you could spread it out over the whole month of November, working just a couple of hours a week, if you prefer.
Literature & History
We always fill our book basket with our favorite Thanksgiving-themed picture books during November. You can find them all pretty inexpensively on Amazon, or reserve them at your local library. You’ll need to reserve them ahead of time, though, because holiday books are always borrowed quickly. Here are a few of our favorites from our basket:
You can find the complete list, including historical novels for older kids, at 19 Great Thanksgiving Books to Share With Your Kids.
Thanksgiving Storytime: Activities, Fun Crafts and Yummy Treats
Have fun while you learn history! Join us as we play pilgrim games and make carameled indian corn!
This heartwarming book is not about the history of Thanksgiving. It’s about kindness, friendship and gratitude. Join us as we make Grandma’s famous cranberry bread and learn all about cranberries.
Grab your kiddos and a cozy blanket to cuddle under — it’s storytime! Please join us we learn all about the Pumpkin Life Cycle (using free, printable worksheets) and make delicious (EASY!) no-bake individual pumpkin pies.
History of Thanksgiving
In 1621, following a year of sickness and scarcity, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for the bounteous harvest He had blessed them with. To these people of strong Christian faith, this was not merely a celebration, it was a joyous outpouring of gratitude.
They had been blessed with a new land in which they could worship God how they saw fit, and where they could train up their children in their faith and traditions.
Check out these other interesting historical facts and documents about Thanksgiving from the Plimoth Plantation.
Thanksgiving Writing Prompts
Adjust these as needed to fit the ages and abilities of your children.
- How was the first Thanksgiving different from the Thanksgivings we celebrate today? In what ways are they the same?
- Write a descriptive paragraph about your favorite Thanksgiving dish. Use lots of sensory details.
- Would you have preferred to be a pilgrim or a Native American? Why?
- Write an acrostic poem about one of these words: THANKSGIVING, GRATITUDE, FAMILY.
- Write a descriptive paragraph about a Thanksgiving memory.
Cranberries are a Thanksgiving tradition. They are also an amazing superfood!
Let’s learn all about cranberries!
Cranberries are probably best known for their role in preventing urinary tract infections. They are considered a superfood due to their high nutrient and antioxidant content. They are also thought to prevent certain types of cancer and improve immune function.
Cranberries are native to North America. They are farmed on approximately 40,000 acres across the northeastern United States and Canada. Cranberries are low, evergreen shrubs.
The fruit is a berry larger than the leaves of the plant; it is initially light green, turning red when ripe. It is edible, but with an acidic taste that overwhelms its sweetness, so they are usually jellied or baked with a lot of sugar.
Each berry take two entire years to grow! It’s the only fruit I can think of where you have fully-formed berries, ripening, next to cranberry blossoms.
The farmers flood their fields over the winter, covering each plant entirely, to preserve the berries against freezing. The video below shows how cranberries are harvested.
Cranberry Experiment: Use cranberry juice to determine acids and bases
- Raw, whole cranberries (they are typically only for sale at the grocery store during the late fall)
- Cranberry juice (as pure as possible, not a blend)
- Various acids and bases to test
You might want to print a free ‘Scientific Method’ worksheet before beginning.
First, we inspected the berries. We talked about characteristics of fruit: the seeds are on the inside (except strawberries) and surrounded by pulp. We speculated that the inside of the berry would contain air pockets, because they floated. Ta-da! There are air pockets surrounding the seeds in the middle of each berry. There are multiple, tiny seeds.
Cranberries contain special, color-changing pigments called anthocyanins that we can use to test whether something is an acid or a base. In this activity, we will use cranberry juice to identify acids and bases and to observe the chemical reactions created when you mix the two. Who knew that cranberries were so much more than a Thanksgiving side?
We noticed that the color of the cranberry juice changed with each substance. The baking soda made the juice dark brown, (my kids wanted to prank their dad and tell him it was root beer) whereas the lemon juice made it lighter. This happened because the anthocyanins change color, depending on whether they’re reacting with an acid or a base. They act as a pH indicator.
When we added baking soda to the cranberry juice, a reaction took place that released a gas, which creates bubbles in the juice. Baking soda is a base, therefore when it comes in contact with an acid like cranberry juice, a reaction occurs. But when the liquid is pH neutral, as water is, no reaction occurs.
We’re going to practice our math skills using the very best part of Thanksgiving dinner — the pumpkin pie! This activity is easy to play on so many levels! And your kiddos will think it’s fun, making repetition and practice easier on YOU.
You can download the free, printable pies below. Scroll through the pages to find the size and style you like. I prefer the larger pies that take up a whole sheet of cardstock. I printed 7 pies, laminated them, left one whole and cut the others (use a ruler for accuracy) into one sheet each: halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, eighths, twelfths.
Number recognition: Cut each blank pie into quarters and write a large number on each. Have your child draw piece of pie from the stack, identify the number, and “scoop” that many cotton balls (representing whipped cream) onto the slice.
Addition and subtraction: Cut each blank pie into quarters and draw a dashed line down the center of the piece of pie, dividing it into eighths. Write a number on each section, with an addition sign between them, and let your child figure the problem out using cotton balls (whipped cream) as manipulatives.
Fractions: Print several whole, blank pies onto cardstock. Laminate them. Explain to your child that 1 pie is 1 whole pie. Now cut 1 in half and explain that you have 2 halves. Use a dry-erase marker to write the fractions on each piece as you go. Show him that the denominater represents the size of the piece (how many pieces you have created from the whole) and the numerator represents how many slices you have.
Hand your child a handful of cotton balls and have her divide the whipped cream evenly between the pies. Start with even multiples of the pie slices, so all of the whipped cream dollops divide evenly between the pieces, then give odd numbers and show your child how to divide the extras.
Equivalent fractions: Since all of the pies are the same size, let your child work on arranging different denominators into whole pies, demonstrating that 2/6=1/3 and so on.
Common denominators/Adding and Subtracting Fractions: Explain and demonstrate that you can ONLY add and subtract pieces that are the same size. But you can trade 1/4 for 2/8 or manipulate the fraction in other ways so that you can create the same size of pieces. (common denominators)
Fraction Games: Let your child take turns writing fractions, too, and play games with all of your fraction pieces to give your child experience. For example, set out plates and ‘serve’ imaginary family members pie. Talk about giving grandpa 1/3 of a piece of pie and grandma 1/4 a piece of pie and ask them why 1/3 is bigger.
Bonus: 3 Movies about the History of Thanksgiving
Pop a bowl of popcorn and learn history through a fun movie! I’m not sure whether these are historically accurate, or even good because I haven’t seen them. So watch them along with your kiddos.
Mayflower Pilgrims: (This one is free with Prime membership) In 1620, after years of sacrifice and hardship, they arrived on the shores of the New World in a tiny ship. They carried in their hearts a set of beliefs which would form the bedrock values for the world’s most powerful democracy. An entertaining and educational look into the Thanksgiving Day festivities that created a national holiday.
William Bradford – The First Thanksgiving: William Bradford was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact while aboard the Mayflower in 1620. As a peacemaker, he befriended the Native Americans who taught the struggling Pilgrims how to survive. By the end of the first year, William Bradford became Governor of the new land. After their first critical harvest, he set aside time for the Pilgrims and their new Native American friends to feast together and express their thanks to God. Thus, William Bradford became the Father of Thanksgiving Day. He served as Plymouth Colony Governor five times covering about thirty years between 1621 and 1657.
American Experience: The Pilgrims: The Pilgrims narrative has been shrouded in myth, embedded in Thanksgiving Day feasts, football, and parades. Who were the men and women who constituted this band of English Protestants whom we call the Pilgrims? A documentary film by award-winning director Ric Burns, The Pilgrims chronicles the deep history, origins, and critical first decade of the first permanent English colony in New England.
Whew! That was a whole lot of fun Thanksgiving stuff! We had fun sharing it with you, and we hope you’ll join us for another amazing unit study in the future.
Happy Thanksgiving from the Saunders family at Orison Orchards!
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