Rethinking Thanksgiving in Kindergarten

Kindergarten Cafe

Welcome to Kindergarten Cafe - your home for teaching ideas, activities, and strategies across all content areas! I am Zeba McGibbon and I love creating resources for teachers and sharing my teaching experience with others. Kindergarten Cafe is aimed for kindergarten, but teachers of Preschool-First grade can find resources here for their students! I love to connect with other teachers so please reach out and say hello!

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I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting and learning about teaching with more of an equity lens. I am definitely trying to diversify my books and offer more perspectives in my teaching than just a White male perspective of history. I want my students to learn accurate history, instead of growing up and having to unlearn a lot before they can learn what really happened, like I did. This brings me to Thanksgiving in Kindergarten. Am I really doing enough to teach my students accurately what happened? What traditions can stay and what do I need to reevaluate?

My Perspective

In the United States we are all living on Native land. In order to do better and be a better steward of the land, I want to first open this blog with a land acknowledgement. I live in land that was originally occupied by the Massachuset people. For a long time, they have lived here and cared for the land. The Massachuset people are alive today and still feel a strong connection to this land. If you are curious about the land you live on, you can check out this map to see the Native tribes that lived in your town. If you want to learn more about land acknowledgements, I recommend watching this video.

Additionally, I am writing this blog as a White woman who teaches students of a variety of backgrounds and cultures. A majority of my students are from high socio-economic status families. My perspective in writing this blog is thinking about my students, and wanting to teach them accurate history as well as appreciation for Native people still living in our country today. 

Thanksgiving in Kindergarten: What to keep?

thanksgiving in kindergarten

I’ve decided that I still want to keep a lot of the traditional elements of a Thanksgiving dinner with my students. Many students celebrate Thanksgiving with their families and so it is an important day for them. They get a chance to share about how they celebrate the day, since not everyone celebrates in the same way. I also have students who do not celebrate Thanksgiving, so it is an opportunity to learn about the holiday and its traditions. 

In addition to the traditional elements of Thanksgiving, I also keep all the turkey activities. The turkey is a symbol of the way Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. My students especially love the Albuquerque Turkey song and activity. 

thanksgiving in kindergarten
thanksgiving in kindergarten

We also keep the idea of being thankful. Todd Parr’s The Thankful Book is a great book for launching this topic. After reading The Thankful Book students then write about what they are thankful for. I will definitely be keeping this activity, since many families ask children to share what they are thankful for at their Thanksgiving dinner, and gratefulness is a good skill to practice. Check out the other books I’m keeping in my Amazon Storefront.

Thanksgiving in Kindergarten: What to get rid of?

I want to teach my students accurate history about the first Thanksgiving and where the holiday comes from. In doing so, however, I do not want to perpetuate any stereotypes. Therefore, I am getting rid of books in my collection that include stereotypical and harmful images of Native Americans. I am also getting rid of books that talk about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans as friends. I do not want to whitewash the history that I teach and imply that everything was great for the Native Americans. For Native Americans in our country, Thanksgiving is a National Day of Mourning. A day to remember all the exploitation, genocide, and harm that White settlers caused Native people.

thanksgiving books for kids
thanksgiving books for children
thanksgiving in kindergarten

Thanksgiving in Kindergarten: What to add?

thanksgiving in kindergarten native texts

This year, I am focusing on adding more texts that center Native American authors and characters, instead of continuing the cycle of focusing on the White settler perspective. For non-Native students, I want to make sure that the texts they read in my classroom are broadening their understanding of those who live around them, For Native students, I want to ensure that they see themselves reflected in my curriculum.I want my students to learn Native people are still very much alive and important members of our society.

I definitely want to focus on Native Americans specifically in November around Thanksgiving. When students initially learn about the first Thanksgiving, they are often led to believe that the Native Americans performed a selfless act by helping the Pilgrims, that it is a holiday to commemorate friendship and to give thanks. Students often are not even taught the Wamanoag tribe’s name throughout their schooling (the tribe that lived in Plymouth when the Pilgrims arrived). It is this sort of erasure that has contributed to the narrative that Native Americans have simply disappeared. Many of my previous students didn’t realize that Native Americans are, in fact, still alive today. I am excited to add these texts to my collection of Thanksgiving books to help grow our conversations about diversity and inclusion.  You can check out these and other recommended texts in my Amazon storefront.

Conclusion

Thanksgiving is a major American holiday and one that many students will be celebrating with their families. While we can appreciate the traditions that many students celebrate with their families, we don’t need to continue harmful lessons and to perpetuate stereotypes about Native Americans with our students. Instead of continuing to whitewash the past, we can teach our students accurate history and to share stories that center the lives of Native Americans today.  

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Emma Hayes

There I was in a hot yoga studio with plenty of bright natural light and bending myself into pretzel like positions for the very first time.

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