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Holidays & Seasons        < Previous        Next >


Thanksgiving Pageant for Young Children


Today's Snack: The best part of a Thanksgiving pageant is that, at the end, you get to sit down and FEAST! Notice the food that you will be preparing and enjoying in the After School Treat below.






Minimum of two adults or older children and at least three children, a boy and girl Pilgrim and at least one Native American


For the Mayflower: large piece of cardboard, as from a refrigerator box (ask at an appliance store)


or tape two or three lengths of shelf paper together to make a big surface


Tempera paint and brush, or markers


For the mast and sail: broomstick with a white bedsheet attached (with sturdy rubber bands?) at the top and the bottom, then folded into a triangle shape like a sail, with the far corner stapled onto the top of the "Mayflower" - an older child or adult should hide in front of the Mayflower to make it "ride the waves," and to hold up the "mast" and "sail"


Costumes: plain brown paper grocery sacks


Feathers, beads, twine, other decorations


Hot-glue gun


Face paint




Fabric scraps for Pilgrim's shawls, shirts


Construction paper and tape for shoe, belt buckles


Construction paper Pilgrim's hats and bonnets


Toy fish or construction paper fish


Kernels of dry corn (borrow from the squirrel feeder supplies, or extract kernels from an ear of decorative Indian corn)


Props to illustrate Pilgrim children's chores (see "script," below;

A CLEAN toilet brush with base can be covered with a cut-up brown paper sack to look like and operate like a churn . . . if there are dry pine needles in a park near your home, you could gather a pillowcase full to demonstrate mattress-stuffing)


Shells for eating utensils, or kid-sized tableware


Make the first Thanksgiving "feast" as simple or elaborate as you'd like:

Kids can either pretend they are eating OR you can serve

turkey meat, corn muffins, carrots and grapes, which are all probably accurate


If your play is with older children, you might want more information to make this play more of a teaching tool:




You can help put on a Thanksgiving play with the kids in your after-school group. Or "direct" the pageant for the kids in your family. Or volunteer to help the local preschool, your church's Sunday School, or anywhere else there are people who would enjoy revisiting what happened that historic first Thanksgiving in America, and young children ready to start learning about it.


The most elaborate prop might be to draw or paint a Mayflower ship out of large piece of cardboard, such as a refrigerator box. If you don't have time to ask an appliance store for a box, or can't get such a big box home in your car, then get a roll of white shelf paper, and tape two or three long lengths of it together on the back. It should be at least six feet long and taller than the "actors" in your play. If you can paint it, sails and all, great, but it would be enough to just paint the base of the ship without the sails, and make a representative sail out of a broomstick and sheet - see below.



On the front side of this big box or large shelf paper "canvas," paint a wide view of the Mayflower. Depending on how old the "actors" are, they'd probably love to help you do this.


On the back, paint a building that resembles what that first colony looks like. During the play, you will flip this side over after the "Pilgrims" have arrived on the "Mayflower" painted on the other side.


You'll probably need one older child or adult at the front of the ship as a "stagehand," hiding behind the ship and crouching, and one at the back of the ship, to make it "ride the waves" and keep the "actors" from falling off their stools and getting hurt. The "stagehand" in front could hold up the "sail."


You could have the kids stand (carefully) on stools so that just their heads or the top half of their bodies shows behind the "ship," and then adults can move the cardboard up and down as if it is rocking and rolling on ocean waves.


You can turn it around and on the other side, have a Pilgrim cabin with fort fencing around it for a scene change. Here's a photo of Plymouth Colony as recreated:



You can make simple costumes that children will enjoy wearing, by painting designs on grocery sacks cut into Native American "vests," and hot-gluing (that's for someone older to do!) feathers and beads onto it. Construction paper hats and bonnets will do for the Pilgrims, and use old clothes and fabric scraps for coats, pants, aprons and skirts:





They can act it out while you narrate a little informal script. You could say something like this:


The Pilgrims came to America from England on a ship called the Mayflower. Their main goal was religious freedom. It was a long, rough journey (minimum of two Pilgrims standing on stools or chairs behind the "Mayflower" and "stagehands" should move the ship; children love this part!). It took 66 days! A whole lot of the people got sick while on board. But they made it all the way through!


They landed on Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, and started building their little village, which they called "Plymouth Colony." ("Stagehands" should detach the "Mayflower" sail and put it aside, then move the cardboard or shelf paper around now to serve as the backdrop of the colony.)


The first year was really hard, but the people who already lived there, the Native Americans, helped them, and so they grew enough food on their farm to last them through the winter. The first Thanksgiving in America was in the fall of 1621. It lasted three days. The people ate, drank and played games. The point was to thank God for the harvest and all His blessings. There were 52 colonists who came over here on the Mayflower, a ship from England, and 90 Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe, who were hunters and farmers and lived in wigwams made of trees.


The Indians taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn so that it would be fertilized and grow taller sooner. They would dig a hole and place a kernel of corn with a small chunk of fish (actors can demonstrate), and as the fish rotted, it provided good fertilizer to make the corn grow. So they got lots of corn to eat during the long winter, and that was great!


Pilgrim kids had a lot of important chores to do to help the settlement. (Actors can demonstrate with props you've gathered in advance) Boys would help build houses, hunt for food, gather wood for fires, and make wooden pegs that were used as nails. Girls helped cook and serve meals, washed clothes, made soap and candles, churned butter, shelled dry corn, and made mattresses out of pine needles, feathers or cornhusks.


But the Thanksgiving feast was a time to enjoy what all that hard work had brought them, to think about past blessings and look forward to future ones.


Now, they couldn't go to the grocery store, like we do, to get the food. There WEREN'T any grocery stores back then. If you wanted food, you had to grow it yourself, on your farm.


So, after a whole spring, summer and fall of farming, they had brought in enough food to last the long winter. And to celebrate, they prepared a feast - a big meal.


(Children can pretend to cook and eat, or actually put morsels on plates and in cups. But remember to pray BEFORE you eat!)


They prayed to God together, thanking Him for their harvest and their many blessings. They enjoyed the big feast (actors demonstrate). And they played games (actors could demonstrate ring around the rosie or other games) and had a lot of fun.


So, yes, a lot of work went in to America's beginning . . . but isn't it fun that America started off with a PARTY, and we still party today, with Thanksgiving?!?


By Susan Darst Williams Americanism 31 2008




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