Thanksgiving Day Feast
I invented this game on the spur of the moment one Thanksgiving when a scheduling change obliged me to teach a Kindergarten class for which I was not prepared. It combines thinking and learning about the way the Pilgrims might have lived with exploring the senses. Obviously it works best around Thanksgiving, though of course it could be adapted for any feast.
When was the first Thanksgiving? Who celebrated it?
What sorts of things do you eat at Thanksgiving?
What sorts of things do you suppose the Pilgrims ate at their feast? (Corn, Venison, Fish, Bread, Turkey, Squash, etc.)
Where did they get it? Did they go to the store and buy a turkey? (No, they shot it.)
Did they go to the bakery and get some bread? (No, they baked it from flour they ground themselves.)
Did they get corn out of a can? (No, they grew it.)
Did they get fish from the freezer? (No, they caught them.)
In a few minutes we are going to pretend we're Pilgrims. We're going to make, and then eat, the first Thanksgiving Feast. But first, let's practice pretending in a new way. We're going to have to pretend to feel things, and even to taste things. That's not so easy.
Let's start with a lemon. Everyone pretend you have a lemon in your hand. Feel its shape. Feel its weight. Toss it up and down a few times. Take your finger and gently feel the bumpy surface. Feel the pointy end. Okay, here goes. Take a big bite. Wow! Look at how your classmates' faces are all squeezed up! You all really can taste that lemon!
How about ice cream? Let's take a bowl of your favorite flavor. Feel how cold the bowl feels in your hands. Take a spoon and take a big bite. Taste the sweetness. Feel it as it melts. Don't take too big a bite or you'll get a brain freeze! Don't you hate that?
Now let's try something hot--say, hot cocoa. Feel the heat of the mug as it warms your hands. Feel the steam in your face. Carefully take a small sip--be sure it's not too hot!
What about lifting something heavy? Let's pretend there's a suitcase here, and it is full of lead. See if you can lift it. Try hard! Wow, are you strong!
Okay, I think we're ready to start our game. Be sure to listen closely and do just what I say, so that we can all stay together and have a great feast.
This is just a simple narrative pantomime. I've written it out in the form of a monologue, but there is no reason to slavishly adhere to it. This is just an example of what I say when I teach this lesson. I've divided it into specific events, but you might choose other events, and use some, all, or none or these. I only have a few here because my lessons with the Kindergarten are only half an hour long. This is just an example of what you could do.
Let's pretend it is springtime. We need to start now if we're going to have anything to eat in the fall!
Let's plant some corn. The Native People* showed us how, remember? First we dig a lot of small holes. Hey! Be careful where you're throwing that dirt! Make sure the holes are nice and deep. Can you feel how firm the soil is?
Who's got the corn? Take your bag of dried corn kernels and drop a small handful into each hole. Be sure not to miss any! Feel what the corn kernels feel like in your hand. What does it feel like to put your hand in the bag and feel them all?
Oops! Now we need some fish! Fish? Of course. Let's pretend we have some right over here. We caught them yesterday. Pick one up. Feel how slippery and scaly it is. Bring a bunch of them over to the holes. Don't drop them! It's hard to carry a lot of slippery fish! We should have used a bucket. Dump them down by the holes.
Use your shovel to cut each one in half. Oooh, gross! Let's not touch them with our hands again!
Now drop half a fish in each hole. That will help to fertilize the corn. Wow, I'm glad that's over.
Now let's fill the holes in with dirt. Gently! Tap it down with your toe to make it firm.
We need some water. Let's pretend the well is over here. Get a bucket. Now we turn the crank and up comes the pail full of water. Pour it into your bucket. Wait until everyone has some! Now let's carry it back to the cornfield. Ugh! It's heavy! Can you feel how heavy it is?
Now let's carefully pour the water over the freshly planted corn. We'll have to tend our cornfield all summer.
Of course, we'll have to plant some squash and pumpkins, and some wheat as well, but let's pretend we already did that. In fact, let's pretend it's fall already, and it's time to get ready for the feast.
Let's go hunting. We have some guns--muskets and blunderbusses--but let's take bows and arrows instead. We're hunting wild turkeys, and the Native People* have shown us that their bows are more accurate than our noisy guns. Make sure to bring plenty of arrows!
We're walking into the woods now. Can you feel the underbrush as it touches your legs? Can you hear the sounds of the forest? Can you smell the rich, piney air?
Shhh! I think there's some turkeys up ahead! Get your bow ready! Feel the tension on the string. Set the arrow carefully. We have to be ready when they fly up into the air. Pull the string back. It's surprisingly hard to pull, isn't it?
There they go! Aim carefully and let the arrow go! Did you hear the sound it made as it left the bow?
You got one! Good shot! Let's go pick it up and carry it home.
Time to Eat
Now let's pretend it's time to eat. We must have hunted other things too, like deer, and we must have caught some fish. We must have cooked all day. But I think it would be more fun to EAT!
Take your plate and fill it up with all the good stuff there is here. Then bring it with you to your seat. Would someone say grace? (If you teach in a school where grace is a bad idea, just skip it, but I defend it on the basis of historical accuracy--certainly the pilgrims would have done it.) Okay--let's eat!
Be sure you really taste your food! Some of the things the Pilgrims ate might be new to you. What are they like? Do you like them? Be sure and try lots of different things!
For a spur-of-the-moment invention, this activity worked great the first time, and I now use it every Thanksgiving.
* Native People. Popular wisdom notwithstanding, there's really no accepted term here. At the particular school where I created this lesson, the Kindergarten students (and, I presume, their teachers--where else did they get it?) said "Indians." My instinct was to say "Native Americans," but I had recently discovered that that term was banned in the 4th Grade, because one of the teachers had native friends who hated it (on the grounds that "American" was a label they hadn't asked for and didn't want). The 4th grade teachers said "Native People," so that's what I went with--though I made no effort to correct the children when they said "Indian," since that was obviously accepted in their regular classrooms. (I have fairly strong political leanings in my outside life, but I try to keep them out of the classroom. One keeps one's teeth more reliably that way.)
Random Query: I've run into this sort of thing often, and I wish someone would explain it to me. Often schools will use a term like "Indian" with their youngest students and then some years later--presumably when they judge that the children are "ready" for the concept of prejudice--teach them not to use it, and to substitute the current term of choice. The same thing used to happen with "black" vs. "African American," though we seem to have mostly decided "black" is okay after all. Without commenting on whether schools have chosen the right term of choice (or even on whether one is needed at all), why don't teachers just use their choice right from the beginning, instead of teaching the children one term and then later telling them to switch? I don't ask this as a rhetorical question--I'm actually curious. The practice is so prevalent that I assume there must be a good pedagogical reason that folks do it--I just don't know what it is. Do you?