Don't let your Thanksgiving Day pass without a real celebration. As much fun as we have stuffing our faces and watching football, these traditions leave out much of the true meaning of giving thanks. Since my sons were born we have prepared for Thanksgiving by making a "Thanks Turkey" out of construction paper. Each of the turkey's feathers represents one thing we are thankful for. It's nothing fancy, but we take them out each year to see how many gifts we really have.
It's important to give children a voice in the celebration. Allow each child to express what she is thankful for when the family gathers around the table. Before you sit down to dinner, consider these ideas.
Kids love to decorate their homes for any season. In addition to a "Thanks Turkey," try personalized place settings. The Gassell family in Oak Park makes turkeys out of construction paper, but they try to make the turkeys look like members of the family. The current year's turkeys become place settings, but they're all kept in a big box so "we can see how much we've changed over the years," says mom Heidi.
Great decorations also can be found outside your front door. Take the kids on a nature hunt to collect multi-colored leaves, pine cones and twigs. Add a few gourds from the grocery store and even preschoolers can fill a glass bowl with a beautiful centerpiece for the dinner table.
The Jewish Community Center preschool at Am Shalom in Glencoe introduces "pilgrims" as people who come from another country. Children are encouraged to ask their families about their ancestries. Information is then turned into classroom learning. Your family can do this through the creation of a family tree or storytelling. My sons love to hear stories from my mother's childhood. Thanksgiving is a great time to ask a grandparent or uncle to tell kids stories about their family in the "olden days."
Football is not just something to watch. Start your own Turkey Bowl. Mary McMahon's family has been playing touch football every year since her childhood. "We've played in snow and in shorts. We gather in play clothes while the final pieces of the potluck meal are assembled," she says. Generations of cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles and friends form two teams. As a child, McMahon was restricted to hiking the ball. Now, she occasionally gets to play quarterback.