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A Time for Thanksgiving

November 18–22, 2013   |   Vol. 117, Programs 56–60

Whether your kids are 5 or 15, you can have fun learning more about the history of Thanksgiving with them. On this week’s Home School Heartbeat, Mike Smith shares ways to make the Pilgrim story come alive for your kids, and ways to rediscover what Thanksgiving is really all about.

Teach hospitality by inviting someone to Thanksgiving who might not have a place to go.—Mike Smith

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Apples, pumpkins, crisp weather, and the smell of wood smoke—the signs of Thanksgiving are all around us! Has Thanksgiving, though, made its way into your homeschool? This week on Home School Heartbeat, host Mike Smith suggests various ways that you can combine celebration and learning.

Mike Smith:  Have you noticed? Thanksgiving is here! This week, we’ll learn about ways that you can bring this all-American celebration into your family’s homeschool.

Perhaps the most obvious way to incorporate Thanksgiving is with a history study. Thanksgiving is, after all, a historical celebration! As you and your children travel back in time to learn about the Pilgrim’s harvest celebration in 1621, start with the original account. Edward Winslow recorded, “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors.”

Learn why the first harvest was particularly significant by reading William Bradford’s account of the colony’s initial hardships in his history Of Plymouth Plantation .

Do you have little ones in your home with a short attention span for listening to Pilgrim history? Try a simpler account, and then make history come to life for them with some reenactment! Even young children can grasp the story of Thanksgiving by play-acting as you or an older child narrates the events.

Reading the historical accounts is just the beginning, though! Next time, we’ll discover more ways to celebrate and learn. And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Your children will delight in stories about Thanksgiving from famous American authors. Louisa May Alcott tells a charming story in   “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving.” Or read aloud Laura Ingalls Wilder’s account of a pioneer Thanksgiving,   On the Banks of Plum Creek . Older readers may enjoy the New England flavor of Washington Irving’s tales of colonial America. And there are lots of Thanksgiving and harvest-themed picture books for younger readers—just visit your library!

But your Thanksgiving English unit wouldn’t be complete without some of the great poems of the season. Edgar Guest, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Whitcomb Riley, and many other famous American poets have celebrated this season in memorable verse. Your students may enjoy memorizing a poem to recite for the whole family over Thanksgiving dinner!

And after you read together, make time for writing. This would be a great time to assign a creative writing project. Have the family story-teller pen some historical fiction, or let your budding poet add her own verse to the canon of Thanksgiving poetry! If creative writing is not your student’s cup of tea, a short research paper could still add to his appreciation of the holiday.

On our next program, we’ll take Thanksgiving outdoors! And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith:  One of the most vivid ways to learn is by doing! Of course, you can’t literally transport your students back to the first Thanksgiving to join the Pilgrims and the Indians, can you?

Well, with a little imagination, anything is possible! Living history is a great way to help your students understand daily life in the time of famous historical events. Even if you don’t live close enough to a museum or living history site for a field trip, you can create your own living history experience.

Check out some books that will give your children a practical idea of life in the early days of the American colonies. Kate Waters has a series of such books.  Sarah Morton’s Day  and  Samuel Eaton’s Day  portray a Pilgrim girl and boy, while  Tapenum’s Day  is about an Indian boy in Massachusetts.

Next, brainstorm creative ways to let your children live out some of those experiences. You might not have goats that can milk or a spring to draw water from. But you can probably let your children try their hand at washing clothes in a big tub or gather wood outdoors and build a fire with your supervision. Perhaps you could try cooking a whole meal together over an outdoor fire. You might gain a new appreciation for how thankful the Pilgrims were for that harvest feast!

Next time, we’ll wrap up our celebration of Thanksgiving. But until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: This week, we’ve considered lots of ways to incorporate Thanksgiving themes into your homeschool. But this might also be a good time to take a break from your more structured academics, if your homeschool schedule will allow it.

A hands-on approach this week could include cooking skills, which is home economics. Discuss nutrition concepts as you plan your meal out. And all the measuring and timing in the kitchen make great teachable moments for math! For practical art projects, your children could make table centerpieces, hand-draw or design place cards on the computer, and arrange other seasonal decorations.

This Thanksgiving, consider reaching out beyond your family circle. Teach your children the heart of hospitality by including someone in your celebration who might otherwise not have a place to go. The originators of Thanksgiving, after all, were immigrants in a strange land.

There are people in your church who don’t have family in the area—invite them to share Thanksgiving with you. Do you live near a university or college with foreign students? Or perhaps you’ve met an immigrant family at the grocery store or the library. Your children could experience the joy of sharing an American tradition with international friends!

Next time, we’ll think more about the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday. And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Before the holiday comes, take some time to talk with your children about what Thanksgiving means to you.

How do you give thanks? Cultivating gratitude in your children starts with expressing gratitude yourself. Share with your children what you’re thankful for. You might begin with our national heritage of freedom, starting with those first Pilgrims. But don’t stop there! America is still one of the freest countries in the world. Unlike many homeschoolers around the world, you have the privilege of educating your children without severe regulations.

The Pilgrims, in the middle of deep hardship, stopped to recognize the providence of God in their lives. What are the ways that your family has seen the hand of Providence? You and your children might profit from spending an afternoon making a list of blessings you’ve experienced—start with giving thanks for each member of your family! But personal gratitude goes beyond just enjoying the good things in life. Has your family suffered hardships that have cultivated perseverance and good character? Thankfulness is a beautiful way to remember that all of life comes from the hand of God.

However you and your family celebrate this Thanksgiving, we at HSLDA wish you blessings and a heart full of gratitude! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith

Michael Smith and his wife Elizabeth, along with Michael Farris and his wife, Vicki, incorporated Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 and were the original board members. Mike grew up in Arkansas, graduated from the University of Arkansas where he played basketball, majoring in business administration. Upon graduation, he entered the U.S. Navy and served three years before attending law school at the University of San Diego.

In 1972, he was admitted to the bar in California and also has been admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States. He is licensed in Virginia, California, and Washington, D.C.

Mike and his family began homeschooling because their 5-year-old flunked kindergarten. This was quite a disappointment to Mike in light of the fact that he was preparing this child to be president of the United States by starting his education as early as possible.

His family’s life changed drastically when he heard a radio program in 1981 which introduced him to the idea of homeschooling. When they started homeschooling, they began homeschooling one year at a time to meet the academic and social needs of their children. After spending lots of time around people like Mike Farris, he became convinced that he had been called to use his gifts and talents in the legal profession to assist homeschoolers who were being prosecuted because they didn’t hold a teacher’s certificate or satisfy the school district that they could competently teach their children.

Mike came to HSLDA full-time in 1987 and has served as president of the organization since the year 2001. In addition to serving as president, he also is a contact lawyer for California, Nevada and Puerto Rico. All of Mike’s children are now grown, and three of the four were homeschooled. The most enjoyable part of Mike’s job is when he is able to go to homeschool conferences and meet what he calls America’s greatest heroes, homeschooling moms.

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