Thanksgiving reminds us to be thankful and facilitate gratitude with our children. As my kids learn about about Thanksgiving, I’m reminded to consciously teach my children the truth, the myths, and the stereotypes of Native Americans and the First Thanksgiving. So, I’ll recommend Thanksgiving books and teaching ideas to help you with that as well.
Learning About Thanksgiving
- “Provide knowledge about contemporary Native Americans to balance historical information. Teaching about Native Americans exclusively from a historical perspective may perpetuate the idea that they exist only in the past.”
- “Prepare units about specific tribes rather than units about ‘Native Americans.’ For example, develop a unit about the people of Nambe Pueblo, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, the Potawotami. Ideally, choose a tribe with a historical or contemporary role in the local community. Such a unit will provide children with culturally specific knowledge (pertaining to a single group) rather than overgeneralized stereotypes.”
- “Locate and use books that show contemporary children of all colors engaged in their usual, daily activities (for example, playing basketball or riding bicycles) as well as traditional activities. Make the books easily accessible to children throughout the school year. Three excellent titles on the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico are Pueblo Storyteller by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith; Pueblo Boy: Growing Up In Two Worlds by Marcia Keegan; andChildren of Clay by Rina Swentzell.”
- “Cook ethnic foods but be careful not to imply that all members of a particular group eat a specific food.”
- “Be specific about which tribes use particular items, when discussing cultural artifacts (such as clothing or housing) and traditional foods. The Plains tribes use feathered headdresses, for example, but not all other tribes use them.”
- “Critique a Thanksgiving poster depicting the tradtitional, stereotyped Pilgrim and Indian figures, especially when teaching older elementary school children. Take care to select a picture that most children are familiar with, such as those shown on grocery bags or holiday greeting cards. Critically analyze the poster, noting the many tribes the artist has combined into one general image that fails to provide accurate information about any single tribe.”
- “At Thanksgiving, shift the focus away from reenacting the ‘First Thanksgiving.’ Instead, focus on items children can be thankful for in their own lives, and on their families’ celebrations of Thanksgiving at home.”
- “Understand the term “Native American” includes all peoples indigenous to the Western Hemisphere.
- Present Native American Peoples as appropriate role models to children.
- Use books and materials which are written and illustrated by Native American people as primary source materials: speeches, songs, poems, and writings, which show the linguistic skill of a people who have come from an oral tradition.
- When teaching ABC’s, avoid “I is for Indian” and “E is for Eskimo.”
- Avoid rhymes or songs that use Native Americans as counting devices, i.e. “One little, two little, three little…”
- Present Native American Peoples as having unique, separate, and distinct cultures, languages, beliefs, traditions, and customs.
- Avoid craft activities that trivialize Native American dress, dance, and beliefs, i.e. toilet-paper roll kachinas or “Indian dolls,” paper bag and construction paper costumes and headdresses. Research authentic methods and have the proper materials.
- Realize that many songs, dances, legends, and ceremonies of Native American Peoples are considered sacred and should not be “invented” or portrayed as an activity.
- If your educational institution employs images or references to Native American peoples as mascots, i.e. “Redskins,” “Indians,” “Chiefs,” “Braves,” etc., urge your administration to abandon these offensive names.
- Teach Native American history as a regular part of American History and discuss what went wrong or right.
Thanksgiving Books Then and Now
Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life by Kate Waters
Guests by Michael Dorris
Thanksgiving on Thursday (Magic Treehouse) by Mary Pope Osborne
Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Jake Swamp
The Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition by Sally Hunter
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac
The Journey of Jaspar Jonathan Pierce (My Name is America) by Ann Rinaldi
. . .
It’s Thanksgiving by Jack Prelutsky
Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey
The Secret of Saying Thanks by Douglas Wood
Milly and the Macy’s Parade by Shana Corey
And Two More Things
I freelance blog, did you know that? I blog over at Imagine Toys. Visit my Thanksgiving posts there — one shares many fun Thanksgiving games for kids and the other is about practicing daily gratitude with kids.