We all know that Thanksgiving is about much more than turkey and stuffing. It's about being thankful for the people and blessings in our lives and it's a day to spend together. If your family's usual modus operandi involves half the family cooking feverishly in the kitchen while the other half parks it all day in front of the tv (I'm not saying which half!) with kids running around underfoot, here are fifteen ideas for stepping outside of your customary Thanksgiving box and getting more creative. The whole family will be rewarded with a much more memorable day.
Fun things the whole family can do besides watch tv:
Take a family photo: Thanksgiving day can be a flurry of activity and often it's all over before you realize you missed a great opportunity to take group photos, especially with relatives or friends you don't see often. Unless the weather is terrible, get outside for this early in the day and take advantage of the natural light. You could even set up a themed photo booth or use props (make your own or download and print some from Silhouette Studio, $10).
Hold your own Turkey Trot: communities around the country hold Turkey Trots on Thanksgiving day. They're a smart way to run or walk off the calories you're about to put on and they often raise money for charity. If your community doesn't hold one or you're looking for something less formal - hold your own. Designate a time, have your guests put on comfy shoes, invite the neighbors and head out. Set a route or set your timer and turn around when it goes off. It's also a great way for rambunctious kids to burn off some energy.
Have your own Thanksgiving parade: Instead of having the Macy's parade on your tv all day, take your own turn around the neighborhood (ala the bike parade Jo-Ann hosts on the 4th of July). Set kids up with cardboard boxes and art supplies and let them make their own floats. If you have some instruments around the house (even just egg shakers) - you have a marching band.
Play Parlor Games: Parlor games sound pretty old fashioned and they are. They are simply indoor games families can play together, usually requiring no or few accoutrements. The most classic is charades. You can find more ideas at Old Fashioned Living (natch!).
Interview Older Relatives: Our older relatives are repositories of family stories, have lived through more history than us and we often don't know much about them as young people. If you have an older relative visiting you this Thanksgiving, consider setting aside time to interview them for posterity. StoryCorps has ideas for questions to ask to get you started.
Let kids help with the meal:
Make butter: This is the perfect activity for Thanksgiving day because it requires a lot of shaking, can involve multiple kids and, best of all, the result is delicious butter for your table. Here are some instructions: the shaking method or using a stand mixer (not as fun, but if the kids abandon you half-way through you can finish it off).
Set up a 'mocktail' mixing station: As a kid I always felt left out when the adults had fun drinking wine and mixing cocktails on the holidays. Sparkling cider is a nice touch for the table, but you can take the idea further by letting kids create their own non alcoholic mocktails. Set out a variety of fruit juices, seltzer, club soda, ginger ale, etc. and some garnishes (orange, mint, maraschino cherries, etc.) and let them have fun. You could even hold a contest for best mocktail and have the adults vote.
Use the salad spinner: Making a salad, spinach side dish or anything else that you could use your salad spinner for? Put the kids to work and let them spin those greens drier than they've ever been. Kids as young as two can help.
Tear bread for stuffing: Most stuffing recipes advise cutting your bread into 1 inch cubes, but if you're not a perfectionist kids can wash up and tear the bread for you.
Designate any other simple kitchen task: Without years of having to figure out what to make for dinner under their belts, kids still thinking cooking is fun and are usually excited to help out. Let them pitch in wherever makes sense and where it's age appropriate - snapping beans, taking drink orders, basting the turkey, rolling out pie dough, etc.
Ideas for Keeping Kids Busy & Entertained:
Have the kids make the table decor: There are photos of so many gorgeous Thanksgiving table settings in the blogosphere every year, but kid-made decor trumps even the prettiest Martha set-up. Put together an art station and have the kids make toilet paper roll napkin rings, place cards or centerpieces. (Here's a great example on Prairie Mother.)
Make pumpkin-scented playdough: If you're used to making your own playdough, here is a holiday tweak that will make your playdough smell as good as the kitchen on Thanksgiving day and give young kids something to play with. Find the recipe at Ebb & Flow.
Send the Kids Out on a Scavenger Hunt: When I was younger one of the activities in my babysitting bag of tricks was to devise scavenger hunts. It's as simple as writing up a list of items to find and handing them a basket. Divide up into teams and make it competitive if you want. Your list will be different depending on where you live but it can be a simple as: a red leaf, a feather, an acorn, a pinecone, etc. Send an adult along if there are young kids.
Print Out Coloring Pages, Mazes, Word Searches, etc.: Hopefully the kids will be able to get outside and play together but it's a good idea to have some indoor ideas, too. Search the internet for free coloring pages and other activities. Spoonful is a good place to start and others are super easy to find. Ask and the internet delivers.
Don't forget nap/rest time: In many households, Thanksgiving is an all day affair and even if young kids have outgrown naps, it doesn't hurt to try setting aside some time during the day for rest. Ask older kids to hold a story hour for the younger ones or just put on some quiet music in a bedroom and suggest the kids lie on the floor for a half hour. No guarantees it will work, but better rested kids are better behaved and happier.
However you spend your day, I hope it's a happy one!
(Re-edited from a post originally published on 11.24.2011 - CM)