Thanksgiving is not only a time to gather with loved-ones and reflect on all that you have to be thankful for, it's also a wonderful time to help children learn about historic events and have some fun along the way. There's a lot of fun (and learning) to be had during your Thanksgiving class party. Plan it out, bring your thankfulness, and give the kids an unforgettable kickoff to the holiday season.
Simple Thanksgiving Decorations for a Class Party
Your Thanksgiving party will need to look the part, so try these easy decorations to make it festive for your kiddos.
- Start with a great door decoration featuring a turkey or a festive bulletin board with iconic Thanksgiving characters.
- Gather fallen leaves to use as table scatter decorations.
- Pumpkins and gourds are appropriate decorations at Thanksgiving.
- Paper cutouts of turkeys, pumpkins, and fall leaves can be hung on bulletin boards or around the room's perimeter.
- Cover tables with brown or yellow paper.
- Tie orange, brown, and yellow helium balloons to the back of each child's chair.
- Place one or two hay bales in the corner of the classroom, and group large and small pumpkins, dried ears of corn, and gourds on and around the bales.
Let kids help with some of the crafts and decorations the day before.
Thanksgiving Party Crafts for Every Grade
Whether you choose to do crafts the day before your party or in the middle of the celebration, these ideas will help students of every age make some turkey day memories.
Go Literal With Mayflower Hats
This little craft is a fun twist on the typical pilgrim hats children may have made before.
- Pre-cut strips of blue construction paper to an approximate length that would fit around a child's head.
- Scallop the upper edge to look like waves and staple the ends together to create a headband.
- During the party, help the children cut a boat shape out of brown construction paper and triangle sails out of white paper.
- Tape a straw to the center of the brown boat and tape the white sails to the straw to create a Mayflower.
- Use packing tape to secure the Mayflower to the inside of the water headband so it looks like the boat is in the water.
Thanksgiving Wreaths Are Festive
Wreaths are a great autumn decoration and are simple enough for the younger children to make mostly on their own.
- Use paper plates with circles cut out of the centers as a base for the wreaths.
- Go on a nature walk with your students and allow them to collect nature items that they think are beautiful, such as colorful leaves, twigs, and pine cones.
- Ask students to glue them to the paper plate.
Some heavier items might need to be attached with a hot glue gun and will require adult supervision.
Hand Turkeys Are a Classic Craft
For small children, hand turkeys are fun and engaging. Follow this simple how-to for a successful turkey craft.
- Cut out several hand outlines, each on a different colored paper.
- Glue these hands to the back side of a toilet paper roll. The toilet paper roll serves as the turkey's body when eyes and a beak are added. The hand outlines should be staggered so all the colors show and become the feathers.
Try Leaf Turkeys
A nature-focused spin on the classic turkey craft is simple for even the youngest students.
- Choose a large colorful leaf.
- Add googly eyes and an orange triangle to create a beak to make a turkey.
Rock Turkeys Are Easier Than They Sound
You only need a few craft supplies and a fun rock to make this simple turkey day project.
- Allow children to choose a rock.
- Add googly eyes and an orange paper triangle to create a turkey face and body.
- Tape real leaves to the back of the rock to create the tail feathers.
Make Thanksgiving Candle Holders
You'll need to plan ahead for this one so kids come prepared with a mason jar. Mod Podge and some leaves will complete this decorative craft.
- Ask parents to provide a mason jar for their child.
- During craft time, place silk fall leaves on the outside of the jar and cover it with Mod Podge.
- Allow the jars to dry before sending them home to be used as a Thanksgiving dinner candle holder.
Inspire Children With Gratitude Trees
A simple and thought-provoking activity for older (third, fourth, and fifth-grade) students is creating a gratitude tree. While you're crafting, be sure to chat about gratitude and how to practice it for Thanksgiving.
- Cut bare branches of a tree and put them in a large vase with rocks to keep them in place.
- Invite students to cut leaf shapes out of construction paper and ask them to write down the things they are most thankful for.
- Tape the leaves to the branches to create a Gratitude Tree.
Try a Handprint Mayflower
You've heard of handprint turkey crafts, but a Mayflower handprint craft is a fun way to mix things up.
- Use brown paint to make a handprint on white paper.
- Cut sails out of white paper and glue them to the three middle fingers.
- Paint blue water to the bottom of the page and clouds and a sun in the sky to create a picture of the Mayflower sailing the ocean blue.
Make Lovely Leaf Tiaras
This craft is simple, but it allows for so much creativity. You can call them tiaras or hats to suit the preference of each student.
- Make a headband out of construction paper.
- Allow children to paste leaves on the headband to create a tiara.
Real or silk leaves can work for this Thanksgiving party craft. You can even cut them out of construction paper.
Festive Thanksgiving Garland Is Easy
Send your students home with their own DIY Thanksgiving decor. They'll love showing off their finished product to friends and family.
- Supply students with brown yarn approximately three feet long.
- Let kids tape the stems of fallen leaves to the yarn.
- Space the leaves about five inches apart to create a garland.
Party Games & Activities for a Thanksgiving Classroom Celebration
If the crafts don't make your students grateful, the Thanksgiving games definitely will. Choose a game or activity that fits your grade and watch as children discover the fun of the season.
How Many Candy Corns in a Jar?
Fill a jar with candy corn and ask each student to guess how many pieces are in the jar. Supply slips of paper and pencils and remind students to include their names on their guesses. The student whose guess is closest to the correct number can win a prize.
You may need to help write the numbers and names for younger students.
Use the printable scavenger hunt sheets to create a Thanksgiving-themed scavenger hunt for students. Print them, cut them out, and paste them to brown paper bags. Give each winner a special treat, such as a piece of candy or a Thanksgiving-themed pencil. This game is best for first and second-graders who are able to read.
Pin the Feathers on the Turkey
Move over Donkey, there's a new tail in town. Use poster board to create a simple turkey image without tail feathers. Cut feathers out of construction paper and have each student write their name on a feather and then play a traditional round of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. The students who get their feathers in the proper spots are declared the winners. Preschoolers and kindergarteners will really enjoy this variation of the classic game.
Plan a Thanksgiving Parade
Invite children to walk in a parade around the playground or in the halls while parents or neighboring classes watch. Consider creating Thanksgiving costumes for the parade if you have time or parent volunteers. Children can gobble like turkeys or carry their crafts as they walk; this is best for the youngest grade levels.
Host a Thanksgiving Performance
This little activity might inspire a future theater kid or two. Reenact the first Thanksgiving or have children recite Thanksgiving poem stanzas at the front of the class for parents or other grade levels. First and second-graders are able to memorize a short line for this activity.
Make a Thankful Book
Ask preschool and kindergartners to draw images of what they're thankful for on a sheet of paper; first and second-graders can write several sentences to accompany their pictures. Once all the pages are completed, have them stapled or added to a binder in clear plastic sleeves to create a book. At the end of class, read the books together.
Try Turkey Racing
This activity is so exciting that you may be cheering alongside your students.
- Cut two strings about five feet long and attach one end of each string to the wall, approximately four feet up from the floor and a couple of feet apart.
- Have students cut turkey shapes out of construction paper or craft foam and attach a drinking straw (horizontally) to the backside.
- Two at a time, have the children put one string through each straw.
- Have the kids wiggle and shake the string and try to make their turkey get to the wall.
- The student whose turkey reaches the wall first is declared the winner of that round.
- If time permits, allow all the winners to play each other in a championship round.
Feast Relay Race
Here's a Thanksgiving party activity sure to burn off some energy before the afternoon.
- Cut pictures of Thanksgiving-related food out of magazines.
- Put the food cutouts onto a table and divide students into two teams.
- Have the teams stand in two lines and hand the first player on each team a paper plate.
- Each player is to race to the table, put a food image onto their plate, and race back to hand the plate to the next player on their team without having their food blow off the plate.
- The players are not allowed to hold the food down in any way.
- The first team to get a certain number of food items across the finish line is declared the winner.
Hot Bun Balloon Game
It's a Thanksgiving twist on hot potato, and it's a fun addition to any turkey day celebration.
- Use packing tape to attach a paint stirrer to a paper plate to create a faux pan with a handle.
- Then divide students into two teams and have them stand in two lines.
- Put an inflated brown balloon on the first players' plates on each team.
- At the "go" signal, the student players will pass the "hot bun" from one player to the next using the pan.
- The team who gets their balloon to the end of the line first is declared the winning team.
Make Homemade Butter
Help kids create real butter, something the Pilgrims would have spent some time doing for their Thanksgiving feast. Be sure to find out about any possible food allergies or sensitivities for the students before allowing them to try the homemade butter.
- Warm some heavy whipping cream to room temperature and pour some in a small container with a lid (a small Mason or jelly jar would work). Allow the kids to start shaking the jars. Since this requires a great deal of shaking, you may decide to divide the students into groups and share the jars.
- After a few minutes, the cream will thicken to become whipped cream, and after even more shaking, the cream will separate. Pour the buttermilk out, and you will be left with a ball of butter.
- Provide some bread or crackers so the students can all share a bite of their hard work.
Create a Thanksgiving Photo Booth
Older kids love photo booths, so create one at your class party. Create a background out of fall-colored butcher paper and provide photo booth props for the students to wear and hold. Provide Thanksgiving-themed items such as Pilgrim hats and bonnets, turkey feathers, and footballs. You can also provide generic items, such as oversized glasses, bow ties, and funny hats.
You may need another adult to help with this activity. Ask a parent volunteer or classroom parent to snap photos of the kids and then print images for students to take home at the end of the day.
Practice Random Thankfulness
Before class, cut strips of paper and write random nouns on the slips. For example, you could write things such as snow, plants, the bus driver, the zoo, or a book, on the papers. Then place them all in a bowl and have the students each draw a slip from it. Ask the children to write a paragraph about why they are thankful for that person, place, or thing. This exercise is a good way to help students think about gratitude and practice their writing skills from third through fifth grade.
Present a Feast to Your Classroom
The food is half the fun at any celebration, but it's extra important for a Thanksgiving party. Give these menu structures a try for a seasonal treat the kids will love.
The party food can be as simple as Thanksgiving or fall-themed cookies and juice. This is great for lower age levels who may be pickier about their food than older students. However, if the upper grades need to fit more school work into the day, leaving less time for the party, snacks after their regular lunch hour would work for them, too.
Parents can supply a mini Thanksgiving dinner using sliced turkey lunch meat, corn, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Older students, around fourth or fifth grade, might be able to participate in some Thanksgiving cooking activities that result in dishes or sides that can be served at the mini meal.
Holiday Movie-Themed Food
Another fun idea would be to show the children the Peanuts special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and then recreate Snoopy's dinner of popcorn, buttered toast, pretzel sticks, and jelly beans. Be warned, the current generation may need a brief education on the Peanuts pals before you press play.
Tips for a Successful Classroom Thanksgiving
The class Thanksgiving party is usually planned by the teacher and at least one room parent who helps coordinate everything. If you need a little extra help, apply these tested tips.
- About two weeks ahead of the party, the teacher and the room parent should discuss the party and decide how long it's going to last and which activities and treats will be offered to the students.
- No less than one week ahead of the party, it's time for the room parent to contact other parents from the class to ask if they can donate specific items for the party.
- Parents need to know exactly how many of each item is needed so there are no shortages and no child is left out.
- The room parent should also line up one or two more parents to attend the party and help out as needed.
- Since this holiday also provides an excellent opportunity for the children to learn a little about their country's history, the morning of party day could be devoted to learning, and then the party can take place later in the afternoon.
Keep Things Simple
You could certainly hold an elaborate Thanksgiving party if you have enough parent help to pull it off, but it's really not necessary. At this age, students are easily entertained, and their party should include some free time for them to socialize with each other. You want to strike a nice balance between free time and just enough supervised activities to keep the party in hand and fun for everyone.