Let’s skip all that drama, remember what makes it fun and meaningful and set the kids in action to help. Following is a road map to create your own Thanksgiving Theme Dinner.
This can be done on any level of intricacy. Below are the items you’ll need to use throughout the week (or during your allotted planning period) and for your actual dinner on Thanksgiving. The instructions to use these items are broken down into 5 days of dinner activities. You can create these props and recipes using different techniques based on the age/abilities of your children.
As another plus, the crafts you will prepare can easily be packed for travel!
Day One: Brainstorm & Prepare
2. Based on the ages of your kids (and your energy level!), decide which crafts you will do. You don’t have to make all the props for your table and the ones you do choose can be made using the less arduous method. Or, if you and the kids are super motivated, go for it!! Add some of your own ideas too. If you’re having trouble coming to a consensus on what to pick, put each person’s favorite choices into a bowl and draw a set number. Once that is done, jot down which participant will be in charge of which item. Of course, everyone can do more than one.
3. Follow the same method to determine your Thanksgiving dinner menu. Kids are much more willing to eat foods if they play a part in the decision and creation. (However, don’t feel guilty if you keep mum on the mashed cauliflower and later sneak them into the mashed potatoes! If you don‘t add too much, they‘ll never know they‘re getting an extra dose of veggies.)
4. Pick out a Thanksgiving dinner activity to do: Ad-Lib Story, Thankfulness Bowl or Round Table Story.
5. Write out your dinner list of expected guests.
Day Two: Create Cornucopia
If you have chosen to do paper-mache, have your helpers rip strips of newspaper and blow up balloons of various sizes and shapes (from plum size to small pumpkin size) while you create the paste (2 parts water to 1 part flour). Lay out newspaper or plastic tablecloth (great dollar store buy) and have the kids cover the balloons with the strips of newspaper dipped in paste. Get dinner together while they‘re occupied.
To make homemade clay cornucopia, after laying out newspaper, have the kids shape the dough into cornucopia objects--fruits, gourds, etc. When you serve dinner, bake the clay for 45 minutes at 250 degrees.
- 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 1 cup water, 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil.
- Mix dry ingredients first then slowly add liquid and mix.
- Add food coloring if you like or you can paint the objects later.
2. Set the shapes out to dry overnight.
3. Decide the colors for your placemats that you will make on Day 3. you can use poster board cut into placemat sizes or tape two pieces of 8 ½ x 11 sheets together.
Day Three: Placemats & Thankful Thoughts
To make the turkey handprint placemat, you will need brown paint, paintbrushes, a black pen and your kids hands! Paint hands brown and “stamp” them onto the placemat so that the thumb sticks out like the turkey neck and the other fingers make up the “feathers.” Draw on eyes and legs with your black pen (or paint). While you make that evening’s dinner, let your kids continue to decorate their turkey placemats…add feathers, glue tissue paper to look like feathers, paint feathers…or anything else to spice it up. Here are a few ideas.
For the collage placemats, while you make dinner, have the kids cut out pictures and words from old magazines that reflect Thanksgiving thoughts. Perhaps they can cut out things for which they are thankful and/or thankful, giving words. Then, have them glue their cutouts onto their placemats.
2. During dinner, think up thankful thoughts and add them to the placemats in any empty spaces. If your children can write, let them jot down what you come up with.
HINT: To better preserve the placemats, you can laminate them with wax paper (love these pressed leaf placemats!) or wrap plastic wrap over the front taping it at the back.
Day Four: Nametags & Napkin Rings
- By now you should have a good idea of your guest list. If you want to keep it simple, write each name on a folded piece of paper to sit at each place setting. Or, get on the internet and research some fun/funky nametag ideas. Whatever method you choose, once you have created the nametag, you will need to leave a space for guests to write in information during the Thanksgiving dinner. The information they write will be for the game you have chosen to do.
- While you prepare dinner this evening, have the kids paint the cornucopia you created earlier. If you end up with a purple pumpkin and pink winter squash, don’t fret. This dinner should have your own personality to it! Have fun with it!
- During dinner, explain a little of what Thanksgiving is about. Perhaps you could read an appropriate book or watch a movie after you eat. Relax some together before the big day!!
Day Five: Your Thanksgiving Dinner!
1. Get cooking! While you work on the turkey, ham or traditional favorites you like to have, get the kids involved in their part.
Lay out cut celery, peanut butter and cranberries (or raisins). Let them fill the celery with peanut butter and lay the dried fruit like ants marching in a line.
For the bread, give the kids crescent rolls or breadstick dough (or homemade dough) and have them shape it into Thanksgiving icons--turkey, pilgrims hat, or letters that spell out “THANKS.” If you trust them, supply food coloring to add some fun to their designs. If they are old enough, let them help prepare whatever other menu choices you have decided upon.
Pour fruit juice (V-8 Fusion is great to add some vitamins) into ice cube trays. These can be used to cool the lemonade and tea. If you’re really motivated and not worried about choking hazards drop some small berries into the juice.
2. Set the table. Let the kids do the table layout with a little guidance. Perhaps, they could even decide who sits where. It takes the pressure off you if the arrangements don’t go picture perfect!! Make sure you have a couple of pens at the table for your guests to participate in your chosen Thanksgiving activity.
A good way to get the kids out of your hair a bit is to have them go outside and pick out “fillers” for the cornucopia that you made-leaves, pine cones, berries etc. Lay out a brown sheet of posterboard paper underneath for easier clean up.
3. Sit down and enjoy your well-planned meal! Pick a time to do the activity you chose (Family Thanksgiving Story, Thankfulness Bowl or Round Table Story). Right before you eat or before guests hit the desserts is a good breaking point.
Family Thanksgiving Story: Have each guest fill-in a gift they wish they could have on the back of their nametags and then place them in a bowl. You can print the template. The instructions for the game can be found under worksheets at this website.
Thankfulness Bowl: Have each guest write down something for which they are thankful and place it folded into a bowl. Draw each card from the bowl, read the thankful statement and have guests try to guess who wrote it. (make sure you keep the name hidden!)
Round Table Story: Have each guest write a random word on the back of their name tag and throw them in the bowl. Starting at the head of the table, have guests draw a name and make a sentence using that name and the random word written. Each sentence should follow sequentially in action as if you’re writing a story--because you are! Have someone write down what is said and read it when all the names have been drawn.
So, there it is. Your Thanksgiving Theme Dinner! This does not have to be limited to special occasions. Let your mind and ideas wander…
Bright Idea! An excellent way to get your child even more excited and involved in your theme dinner is through his or her peers. Inform your children's teachers of your weekly scenario so that other families in the class can participate on their own at home. This will help your children become more absorbed in the project and they can discuss their tactics, ideas and discoveries with each other. Perhaps the teacher will even take a few minutes each day to monitor progress and offer suggestions.
As a crucial footnote, I do suggest to take occasional breaks according to the attention span of the children, and your own. This is why I would keep theme dinner conversation to a minimum during at least one of your evening meals. When this endeavor becomes a chore, the positive aspects of learning are lost. The main goal is to take advantage of your dinnertime together. Bond and learn surprising things from, and with, your family. In our busy days, one hour can be filled with memories, support and learning. Most of all, HAVE FUN!
A few things for your meal...