Support for PBS Parents provided by:

  • Cat in the Hat
  • Curious George
  • Daniel Tiger
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Nature Cat
  • Odd Squad
  • Ready Jet Go
  • Peg + Cat
  • Splash and Bubbles
  • Sid the Science Kid
  • Super Why!
  • Wild Kratts
  • Thomas & Friends
  • Arthur
  • Bob the Builder
  • Martha Speaks
  • WordGirl
  • Sesame Street
  • The Electric Company
  • Cyberchase
  • Between the Lions
  • Caillou
  • Chuck Vanderchuck
  • Oh Noah
  • Fetch!
  • Fizzy's Lunch Lab
  • Maya & Miguel
  • Mister Rogers
  • Postcards from Buster
  • Clifford
  • SciGirls
  • Wilson & Ditch
  • WordWorld
  • DragonFly TV
  • ZOOM

Happy Thanksgiving

Simple Family-Friendly Thanksgiving Traditions

In the chaos between Halloween and the winter holidays, Thanksgiving often becomes an afterthought, a “How did this sneak up on me?” sort of holiday. It is easy to understand why; as soon as the candy has been passed out on October 31, the holiday music, advertisements and store decorations come out in full force.

But gratitude and pausing to focus on the blessings of life are important! This year, consider adding a new emphasis to your Thanksgiving Day celebration. Begin your own family tradition to give Thanksgiving its well-deserved and special meaning.

Create a Thanksgiving centerpiece. Julie Fraley, a mother to two elementary-aged children in North Olmsted, Ohio, was looking for an inexpensive centerpiece years ago when she decided to “make a centerpiece by getting a branch from the yard and putting it in a vase. Then I cut out leaves from colored construction paper and put string on each one.” Fraley shares that this centerpiece has become an annual tradition in which each person at the table “has to take a few leaves, write their name and date on one side and what they are thankful for on the other side, then hang them on our ‘Tree of Thankfulness’ in the center of the table.” Fraley then saves the leaves each year and reads ones from prior years during the meal.

The tree also serves as a way to record your children’s growth. As Fraley recalls, “I used to write for them when they were little. Then (there are) the years when they first started writing on their own—barely legible, but totally precious. Now they are getting older and their leaves are growing with them—more thought out and expressive.”

Record blessings from year to year. Use an inexpensive plain tablecloth and a few permanent markers to record your family’s blessings each Thanksgiving. Begin by lining your table with either butcher paper or newspaper to protect the tabletop and then drape the tablecloth on top. Pass around a permanent marker during the meal. Guests can either write or draw a picture of that for which they are thankful, along with their name and the year. Be sure to assist little ones, so that their marker drawings stay on the tablecloth.

Use colorful markers to make the tablecloth look festive and be sure to instruct everyone to only write over a small portion of the fabric. After the Thanksgiving meal is over, you can use the tablecloth during family gatherings as a way to remind yourselves of gratitude. Then, when Thanksgiving rolls around again, bring out the tablecloth and add a new year’s worth of blessings. By making it an annual tradition, you’ll have a very special tablecloth to use each year.

Serve those less fortunate. Perhaps there is no better way to feel truly blessed than to serve someone else in need. Whitney Ingram, a mom to three young children in Levi, Utah, explains, “When I was younger, my mom would talk to someone at church who was in charge of humanitarian projects and service projects. She would get a project for us to do before and after Thanksgiving dinner.”

Even small children can grasp the concept of helping others and perform simple tasks with your family. Ingram recalls that even as a young child, “I always liked the concept of us giving back after we [had] been given so much.”

Get active before the meal! Consider participating in a “Turkey Trot” or create your own Thanksgiving morning run or walk together as a family. Many towns and cities host family-friendly races on Thanksgiving morning that often include “Tot Trots” or one-mile walks that are fun for the whole family, usually supporting a nonprofit or charitable cause. Getting up and being active together as a family can help remind you to be thankful for just being healthy. It also can help start the biggest day of eating of the year on a healthful note. As you walk or run, you can even reflect on the year and express gratitude.

No matter what tradition your family chooses for your Thanksgiving Day celebration, anything small or large can help create a sense of community and belonging among your Thanksgiving guests. Ingram remembers about the service projects she and her family completed, “that they always had us sitting around the living room together, chatting and laughing and having a good time. Isn’t that always how service goes?”

Even simple things like an annual breaking of the turkey wishbone or verbally sharing your blessings, when done in a mindful way, will help make Thanksgiving a special moment on your holiday calendar.

  • Vicki

    Great ideas! Thanksgiving is actually my favorite holiday. Music, food and family fun. Love it all.

    • Jessica

      Isn’t Thanksgiving grand? I always want to give the turkey its due!

  • Christy from DC

    Love the table cloth idea! Thanks.

    • Jessica

      You’re welcome Christy!

  • Wendy

    My daughter is making this craft at summer camp today. Looking forward to seeing it complete.

    • Raeanna

      what is your daughter,s name ?

  • Raeanna

    I,ve seen lava lamp on tv before

  • Rebecca Robinson

    My pig/horse cut-out likes “Barney and Friends”. My pig/horse cut-out is seven days old. My neighbor used to have a black cat that bites. One day it just ran off and disappeared. Maybe, a coyote killed it. Maybe, a stranger took it. My dog/mouse cut-out is seven days old. My dog/mouse cut-out likes “Barney and Friends”. She also likes “Kipper the Dog”. My pig/horse cut-out likes “Kipper the Dog”. He also likes “Mustard Pancakes”. My Alaskan Malamute cut-out turned two yesterday. I’ve seen some lava lamps before. My horse/moose cut-out likes “Barney and Friends”. He also likes “Mustard Pancakes”.

  • Stephanie

    how long did you have to wait for the water to sink to the bottom if you put the oil first?

  • Lynn D.

    This craft was a huge hit for my daughters 10th birthday! We didn’t wait for the water to sink and it still worked. I had them wait about 2 min tops and then gave up. The craft was pure joy. We did it with 5 girls. I had them do one step at a time and assist each other. We all stayed on the same step together and one person at a time. They repeated the alka selter step over and over again, they loved watching their own and each other’s. I would say have wet wipes on hand for the oil, sometimes a few drops would bubble out and wet wipes would have been handy. You need alot of Vegetable oil so buy enough. And we went through an entire box of alka seltzer tabs. The craft lasted about 30 minutes.

  • portlandme

    How can I make this into a science fair project ?

    • Sharon Kende-Anchor

      @Portlandme….You can start with the question, what makes a lava lamp work? The hypothesis would be, i think that alka seltzer is heavier than water so it sinks to the bottom of the container. Then, write the steps (procedure) and for conclusion explain that water is a conduit for the acid base reaction (alka seltzer is an acid and a base, citric acid and sodium bicarbonate, plus aspirin). The reaction gives off light products (carbon dioxide and water) and this causes the actual lava effect (bubbles moving to top)

  • Jen

    did the mixture spill out when you added alka seltzer? Looking to add this to a Girl Scout camp we are doing and although we are doing it outside, I wanted to see how messy it got when you added the alka seltzer. Thanks!

  • G

    What is the point of the alka seltzer? Is it necessary? Does it have a porpuse?

  • Jessica Williams

    so what all do they learn from this activity? I would love to use this but I can’t find 3 things it teaches

    • Sharon Kende-Anchor

      This teaches about density. Oil is less dense than water, therefore, it floats on top of it.

      Next Alka-Seltzer sinks to the bottom, mixes with water, and the water starts a reaction between the acid and the base and the Alka-Seltzer. This is called an acid base reaction, more specifically baking soda reacts with citric acid.

      Lastly, the reactants, being baking soda and citric acid, chemically react to form carbon dioxide (and water) which float to the top of the glass. Again because of the density of carbon dioxide) being less than the density of the water or the oil.

      • Jessica Williams

        OK thanks.

Sign up for free newsletters.

Connect with Us

PBS Parents Picks

  1. Wild Kratts image

    Wild Kratts App Teaches Young Children How to Care for Animals

    In this app, kids are charge of feeding, washing, and playing with baby animals.

  2. Curious Kids image

    How (And Why) To Encourage Curiosity

    "...when people are curious about something, they learn more, and better."

  3. Gardening Benefits image

    The Benefits of Gardening With Kids

    Don’t let the idea overwhelm you. A few containers and soil in a sunny spot will do.

PBS Parents Newsletter

Find activities, parenting tips, games from your child's favorite PBS KIDS programs and more.