19 Easy Thanksgiving Activities to Teach Kids to Be Thankful

Judy Dutton | Nov 6, 2017 Big Kid
19 Easy Thanksgiving Activities to Teach Kids to Be Thankful


Thanksgiving is a prime time to tell the kids, "Quit whining! Ponder all the things in life to be thankful for -- food, a roof over our heads, an Xbox One, we've got it made!" The problem is, since lecturing from the mommy soap box rarely sinks in, it might be worth trying some crafts and activities that are fun ways get those feelings of gratitude rolling. Hey, we all need something to do while the turkey is cooking! We found some Thanksgiving Day–themed activities that are sure to make the whole family feel a little more gratitude.

Looking for a way to create new Thanksgiving memories, aside from the annual football game on TV? It might be nice to take a moment to think about all the good things that have happened over the past year, but how can a parent explain gratitude or appreciation to the youngest family members? Why not try a game or activity that will engage the whole family, from toddlers to grown-ups? 

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We found some of our favorite ideas that are sure to make everyone feel a little more appreciative of all the good things (and might even make for some easy and fun ways to keep the kids busy!). We found 20 ideas that are sure to set the right tone this Thanksgiving. Read through our list to see if any of these crafts or activities will make this year extra fun!

Thankful activities for kids

  • Play the Gratitude Game

    Tom Grill/Corbis

    It's family game night, Thanksgiving style. Play the "gratitude game," where players see who can write down the most things they're thankful for in one minute. The "winner" is the person with the longest list.

    Players can also say out loud what they're grateful for, trading off, with the "loser" being the one who's left tongue-tied once the minute is up.

  • Pumpkin of Appreciation


    Have the kids write down a bunch of things they're thankful for on strips of paper. Then what? Turn them into a pumpkin with this easy craft from Moffatt Girls. Set out as Thanksgiving decor; it will serve as a fun reminder to stay grateful for weeks to come.

  • Tree of Thanks


    A Thanksgiving "tree of thanks" is becoming a popular way for families to count their blessings, and this pretty craft from Evite Gatherings can be made easily out of paper twisted to form branches and cut in the shapes of leaves. For every day in November, have the kids write on a leaf what they appreciate in their life, then add it to the tree. By Thanksgiving it should be full!

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  • Give Thanks With Your ABCs


    JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Corbis

    Have the kids write down one thing they're grateful for that starts with each letter of the alphabet. "A" could stand for art class, "B" for their brother (at least most of the time) ... it's a fun and challenging exercise (especially when you get to obscure letters like X) and one that's educational too.

  • Popcorn, Anyone?


    After spotting Christmas advent calendars made with bubble wrap where you "pop" one each day leading up to the holiday, this blogger at Basic Grey came up with a Thanksgiving version of the craft using the perfect veggie: corn on the cob.

    For every day in November leading up to Thanksgiving, kids can pop one and say what they're thankful for, from the A they got in math to their new baseball mitt.

  • Throw a 'Thankful Ball'


    Image © Hero Images/Corbis

    If the kids love throwing (or kicking) a ball around, play a Thanksgiving version called "thankful ball" where every time people catches it, they have to mention something they're grateful for. Keep passing the ball until everyone has shared at least once!

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  • Gratitude Jar


    Kids can fill this "gratitude jar" with acorns, popcorn kernels, and -- of course -- notes on what made them happy that day. They insert one note a day throughout the holidays, and by the end of the month, they've got a gratitude jar filled with fond memories and a nice memento to look back through in the years to come.

  • Have the Kids Write a Thank-You Note

    kid writing
    Jutta Klee/Corbis

    No need to wait for birthday presents. Thanksgiving is the perfect time for the kids to write a thank-you note to someone in their lives who's been there for them, whether that's their friend's mom who carpools them to soccer practice every Saturday or that teacher who spent extra time going over those multiplication tables after school. They should put it in an envelope and send (or give) it to the recipient -- it will make that person's day.

  • Thank You Bank


    In the same way that families toss their loose change in a jar and it eventually amounts to a hefty sum, a mom and her kids can amass a heaping helping of happiness with a "thank you bank." Kids write what makes them happy on the paper coins and make "deposits" that, on Thanksgiving, get read aloud at the table. It's bound to pay off karmically down the road.

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  • Grateful Banner


    For this "gratitude banner," kids write what they're thankful for on strips of paper attached to each flag. Then Mom or Dad strings it up -- on the windows, over the dining room table, or wherever it can serve as a constant reminder of all the good in life. An activity and decor! 

  • Have Kids Keep a Gratitude Journal

    girl writing in journal
    Mike Kemp/Blend Images/Corbis

    If the kids prefer to keep their private musings to themselves, have them keep a "gratitude journal" where they write down one thing a day that they're lucky to have. A prompt for each entry can as simple as: "Three Things I'm Thankful for Are..." or "Today I Am Lucky Because...." Or this can be something that mom and little one do together! 

  • Sewing Goodwill


    If one is good with a needle and thread, this "thankful table runner" gives kids their own blank canvases on which they can draw families, friends, pets, or whatever else brings them joy. It can be pulled out holiday after holiday to remind the family of what they have to be thankful for.

  • In the Books


    Have the whole family contribute to a "book of thanks" where they write down happy memories, or affix photos, theater tickets, or other mementos that were highlights in their life. The blog Eighteen25 has instructions and ideas on how to fill these pages. A great keepsake!

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  • Turkey Time


    Kids will love "feeding" this "thankful turkey" Post-Its of things they're grateful for -- just save an old tissue box and moms will be on their way. Then, on Thanksgiving, take the notes out of the box and read them aloud in front of the family to spread the love.

  • A Gratitude Cootie Catcher


    A fun activity for elementary age kids! Cootie catchers are always fun, whether it be to determine who a crush is or, in this case, a thoughtful way to prompt kids to discuss things they are grateful for. We found this great printable PDF available for free from Brendid.com. But as long as someone in the family knows how to make a paper fortune teller, the task can be as unique as each family who makes it! 

  • Read a Book About Gratitude


    Gratitude can be a tricky concept to understand. So why not read a childrens's book that can explain the concept a little better? We found a great list from Rhythms of Play that will get the ball rolling, though many agree that the book Grateful by John Bucchino is the perfect choice. 

    Families can take turns reading a page from the book after dinner or make it a sweet way to make the night before Thanksgiving a little more meaningful.

  • A Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt


    What better way to get the family up and moving after a full turkey dinner than a fun treasure hunt filled with clever clues that focus on random acts of kindness? Plan a regular scavenger hunt, but mix in some special Thanksgiving prompts to get kids doing good deeds (for example, "Write and draw on some Thankful cards"). Blogger Sky Buffat has a great primer to show how a Thanksgiving Treasure Hunt can be done right! 

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  • Play Gratitude Pick-Up Sticks


    A new take on a classic kids game, this Thanksgiving spin uses any pick-up sticks that one might already own. Just print out this handy sheet from Teach Beside Me and get ready to let the games begin! Each color pick-up stick relates to a different category of questions, like "Yellow: Name a Place You are Thankful for" or "Blue: Name a Thing You are Thankful for," etc. The player who collects the most sticks at the end wins!   

  • Talk to Kids About Being 'Lucky'


    The idea of gratitude or thankfulness can be a little difficult to grasp for preschool-age kids. So a good way to introduce them to the concept of being grateful is to play the "Three Reasons We're Lucky" game. Author Janice Kaplan says that the game can be part of the bedtime ritual, but we think this is a good game to play at the Thanksgiving table as well.

    First, Mom and Dad start by listing three reasons why they are lucky and then prompt the little ones by asking what makes them feel lucky.

    And if parents need a little help bringing the point home, the classic Dr. Seuss book Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? has been teaching kids about gratitude for decades.


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