Thanksgiving is one of America’s most beloved holidays, but it can also be one of it’s most frustrating to parents--especially parents of young children who have a hard time sitting still through a long dinner.
Need some advice? First of all, adjust your expectations and consider what table manners you should expect from children based on their ages. Second, find ways to make the kids want to sit through dinner, such as by playing Thanksgiving table games.
Below are some easy, fun Thanksgiving games you could have the kids play during dinner. Some are best suited for play at a kids-only table. Others could be integrated into the whole-family conversation at the big table.
- Thanksgiving Bingo. Print bingo cards onto paper placemats or onto separate sheets of cardstock. Instead of spelling “bingo” across the top, though, write “feast." Have the oldest child at the table call out bingo numbers. If there are very young children playing, use pictures instead of numbers or letters in the squares. For example, use clipart pictures of turkeys, the Mayflower ship and pilgrims.
- I Spy. I Spy is a timeless game that doesn’t require any supplies. One person starts the game by saying, “I spy …” and then gives a clue about something they see in the room. For example, the person who is “it” could say, “I spy something sweet made from an orange squash.” The person who guesses “pumpkin pie” is the next one to come up with an I spy clue.
- Crossword Puzzles and Word Searches. How about setting out a packet of Thanksgiving worksheets at each place setting? It could contain Thanksgiving dot to dots, crossword puzzles, word searches and coloring pages. Beverly Hernandez, About.com's Guide to Homeschooling, offers several Thanksgiving games and activities to print on her site. Also check out Family Crafts Guide Sherri Osborn's collection of Thanksgiving Printables.
- A Thanksgiving Play. Some families have the children perform a Thanksgiving play before or after dinner. Instead, you could have the kids read a Thanksgiving script during dinner. Assign each child a role and have simple costumes and props, such as pilgrim hats and ears of corn, ready for them.
- Thanksgiving Word Mash Up. Write the words "Happy Thanksgiving" across the top of a piece of paper, place it on a clipboard and then pass it around the table with a pen or pencil. Have each child think of a word they can spell using the letters from that phrase and write it down (example: pants, nap, etc.). Keep going around the table until no one can think of another word.
- Thanksgiving Mad Libs. Make up a Thanksgiving story and then take out some of the adjectives, adverbs and nouns. Have the kids fill in the blanks and then read their wacky stories to the rest of the family during dinner. Printable Thanksgiving Mad Libs are also available online.
- Thankful Envelope. Every year, have the children (or all family members) write down five things for which they’re thankful next to their name and the date. Seal the responses in an envelope and then open last year’s envelope and read it aloud during dinner, along with the responses from years past. The kids might think it’s funny to remember what was important to them when they were “little.”
- White Elephant Gift Exchange. Have the kids bring an old toy or silly gift from home that is wrapped. At some point during dinner, hand each child a gift and then read a script that instructs them to pass the present from left to right several times. When the left-right story ends, the children open the present that ends up in their hands. The website Diva Girl Parties has a right-left passing game script for Thanksgiving on its site.
- Memory. For every two children, make a set of Thanksgiving memory cards using Thanksgiving-related clip art on one side and an identical picture or color for every card on the other. Have the kids partner up during dinner, shuffle the cards, and then place them picture side down in a grid formation. The players then take turns trying to find matches by remembering where the overturned cards were placed.
- Thanksgiving Trivia. Create a worksheet or set of cards containing Thanksgiving trivia questions, and then test the kids’ (and adults, if you like) knowledge. If you have a wide age range represented at your dinner, make one set of questions for the older kids and another for the younger ones.
- Blank Slate Tablecloth. Cover the kids’ table with butcher paper instead of linen and set out crayons so they can color pictures while they eat.
- Guessing Game. Set out a glass jar full of Thanksgiving candy pieces (or some other small objects) and have the kids guess how many are inside at the beginning of dinner. When everyone is done eating, open up the jar and count the objects to reveal the person who was closest to the actual amount as the winner. The prize is the jar of treats, but warn the kids at the start of dinner that they “must be present to win.”
Playing games on Thanksgiving might buy you extra time at the table with your kids, but try not to sweat it if you can’t get the children to sit still for more than 20 minutes or so. For young children, it’s developmentally difficult to do so and expecting too much from them will just end up frustrating everyone. Take a lighthearted approach to Thanksgiving, and then don’t be surprised if it ends up being one of your children’s favorite holidays.