Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pilgrims, Pumpkins, Mayflower and More

We’re using the entire month of November to study Pilgrims, the Mayflower, and the first Thanksgiving. My kindergartner is really enjoying all the lessons, crafts and activities we’re finding regarding how the people from the 1600’s lived (and what they lived without!) and what the voyage was like on the Mayflower. (No television, refrigerator, etc. etc.) Last month we learned about Columbus which was a nice lead-in to our more in-depth studies now.
Here are some of the books, websites and activities we’ve been using this month and will continue through November.
“What is Thanksgiving Day?” By Margot Parker is an adorably illustrated, charming tale of a big sister explaining the first Thanksgiving to her little brother. It has what I consider to be just the right amount of religious inclusion of the Pilgrim’s faith and giving thanks to God-- not so much to be the total focus of the book yet still enough to display faith as a history and a very natural present-day extension of the holiday. If you are not a praying family, you probably wouldn’t care for the book, as the children in the story thank God, but for my family it was perfect. It is a great introduction for young children and I recommend starting out with it.

From there, I highly recommend the Scholastic series of “If you…” books. We’re currently working from “If you sailed on the Mayflower in 1620” by Ann McGovern which we are reading from a little each day over the course of a week. (For 2-5 grade students, here is an awesome accompanying literature guide with test and review questions for this book, some you have to be a member to view and other portions you can view for free: Lit Unit)
We made a small Mayflower ship out of an egg carton and popsicle sticks that we sailed across the “ocean” of a world map we traced onto blue poster board. The next day, we picked up an appliance box from the local furniture store and made our own Mayflower to sail across our yard, with Grandma’s house (next door) being The New World.

Plimoth Plantation has an incredibly amazing website with interactive games, coloring pages and a wealth of historical facts at

We also really enjoy watching, “This is America, Charlie Brown,” a two-part video cartoon on the voyage of the Mayflower.

Older children who need a more in-depth documentary will learn a lot from this free pbs series: "We Shall Remain" covers after the Mayflower and Colonial Times with an emphasis on the Natives, will compliment well the materials at, you can view online at

Scholastic has a terrific set of activities for Thanksgiving: Scholastic

Currclick recently gave away a great Thanksgiving vocabulary game kit and my daughter is loving writing new words every day such as Pilgrim, Pumpkin, Mayflower, Native, Thanksgiving, etc. They also gave a wonderful 141 page unit study about the American Colonies. OHC always makes such thorough guides, I absolutely LOVE when I can get them free from Currclick.

The book, “Colonial Kids” by Laurie Carlson is another recent favorite we’ve added to our home library. It is packed full of activities we’ll be using for years to come. One easy craft we’ve chosen is to make a Quill Pen with a real turkey feather that we had from wild turkeys in our yard anyway and a recipe for homemade ink you make from crushed up walnut shells. It’s really cool and both the kids had fun with it. Now they notice in the pictures and film clips of the pilgrims signing treaties that they are using feather pens like the one we made and think it is really neat.

For more art projects, we’ve delighted in the discovery of the activity tv site online, as you can pause as you go along. My daughter did a super job making this letter P into a Pilgrim:

Older kids will enjoy this advanced cartoon of making the Mayflower ship:

A wonderful tie in for us, too, has been some beginning study of the stars as the sailors used the stars to navigate across the ocean. See more of our exploration here.

As we head into the week of Thanksgiving, we’ll be working from “If you were at the First Thanksgiving” by Anne Kamma and making various recipes. My daughter just made a pumpkin pie with Grandma this week (not with pumpkins from our garden though, we used the last of those up at Halloween, and they weren’t baking pumpkins anyway). I was surprised to learn from Kamma’s book that pumpkin pie wasn’t actually served at the first Thanksgiving even though they had and cooked with pumpkins, they lacked other ingredients like sugar. A nice feature in the book lists the ingredients the pilgrims had in a different color in the pumpkin pie recipe they provide, although she and Grandma used a slightly different recipe than the one in the book. Her friends happened to come over later that afternoon, so she was able to share some pie and ice cream with them.

Here are a couple more books I can suggest for just-for-fun Thanksgiving reading. Fun Thanksgiving Books.