This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching grade K-3 students about the Thanksgiving holiday. It is designed to complement the Thanksgiving topic on BrainPOP Jr.  

Discuss Thanksgiving with children. How do they celebrate this holiday? What are some of their traditions? Remind children that In the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It’s a holiday when friends and family celebrate over a feast or meal, and a time to be thankful and appreciate each other. It’s an exciting time for children and part of the winter holiday season. Tell children that to understand why we celebrate Thanksgiving, they first need to know about the Wampanoag, a group of native people made up of different tribes.

For thousands of years, the Wampanoag lived in the area that is now Massachusetts and Rhode Island. When Europeans arrived in the 1500s, the Wampanoag traded crops, tools, and weapons with them. Then some of the Europeans kidnapped and forced some Wampanoag men into slavery. One of the men was Tisquantum, also known as Squanto. Many Wampanoag caught a disease the Europeans brought with them, and half of the tribe died. 

In 1620, a ship called the Mayflower arrived on Wampanoag lands. The people on board had left their homes in England due to disagreements with the church and government. They came to  America to start their own colony. Remind children that a colony is a place where people settle far from home. Today we call these settlers Pilgrims. 

The Pilgrims were in pretty bad shape when they arrived in New England. Many had become sick during the voyage, and they were unprepared for the winter weather. They were cold and tired and didn’t have enough food, so they stole from a Wampanoag storage pit. 

Massasoit Ousamequin was the sachem, or leader, of the Wmapanoag. In a meeting with John Carver, the governor of the Plymouth Colony, they agreed to keep peace and protect each other. 

Despite having been previously enslaved by the Europeans, Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to grow crops. One day, the Wampanoag heard loud noises coming from the Pilgrims’ settlement. They were having a feast to celebrate the harvest. The Wampanoag and the settlers decided to join together in one big feast, which lasted three days. They ate seafood, squash, berries, nuts, and venison (deer meat). Discuss with children how this food differs from what they eat for Thanksgiving now. 

Over time, more and more settlers moved onto Wampanoag land and created laws that were not fair to the people. A war broke out, and the settlers forced the Wampanoag to leave their homes and to dress, pray, and live like the settlers. 

The original feast between the settlers and Wampanoag led to a tradition of sharing a big meal in the fall. Eventually it became a national holiday.

Tell children that today, every family has their own Thanksgiving traditions and foods. Many families eat turkey and stuffing, green beans, and pumpkin pie. But a lot of families bring in food traditions from their own backgrounds. Remind children that Americans come from all over the world and many families share food from their cultures to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. 

No matter what we eat, Thanksgiving is about spending time together and also remembering our past. Today, the Wampanoag and native people across the country gather on Thanksgiving to remember their ancestors and the challenges they faced. Explain to children that it’s just as important to understand our history as it is to appreciate all the important things and people in our lives.