A Thanksgiving Tradition: Connect with Little Ones through Poetry

Thanksgiving card by Papyrus featuring a Little Goodall Fox Coat. Original image by Bellini Portraits.

More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is a day we have designated to pause from our busy lives, gather with loved ones, and honor the human bonds which support us through a nourishing meal. In reality, most of us associate the day with travel stress, cooking stress, or managing the logistics of complex family relationships. Children and older adults can sometimes be left on the fringes of the activity when they are indeed the heart of this special day! Make this Thanksgiving a memorable one by connecting with each other in a time-honored way. A Thanksgiving Poem is a simple tradition that focuses on bringing children into conversations and activities instead of keeping them separated in another room or at a different dining table.

Long before television, iPads and Xboxes, families gathered for storytelling. This almost lost art was centered on an elder sharing a tale, sometimes in verse, with a descriptive setting and a cast of characters. Children would delight in the story and eagerly anticipate the vivid details. It developed active listening, imagination, focus, and attention span (skills from which modern children still benefit!).

This Thanksgiving, awaken the love of language and the bond of storytelling with your children through poetry. Here are my simple suggestions for poetic memory-making this Turkey Day.

  1. Invite an older family member to read a well-loved poem out loud while younger children illustrate their favorite parts. Family members can talk about the meaning of the poem and share their thoughts to help with illustrations. Finished drawings can be collected in a binder and added to each Thanksgiving, or gifted to friends or relatives as a remembrance of the day. Here are two of my favorites which are perfect for Thanksgiving: The New England Boy's Song about Thanksgiving Day (Lydia Maria Child) and Come Little Leaves (George Cooper)
  1. A day or two before, have younger children memorize and recite a short poemto share with relatives before or after dinner. The site in the link above has some great memorization techniques to try!Autumn: A Collection of Poems, Songs and Stories for Young Children (Jennifer Aulie, Editor; Margaret Meyerkort, Editor) is filled with a variety of short, simple rhythmic poems which conjure the season of Autumn no matter where you live. For visual little ones who like pictures to go with their verse,Fall Leaves(Lorette Holland) is filled with magical illustrations.
  1. Encourage older children to read a poem while younger children act it out. They can practice together while everyone is cooking and then perform after the traditional meal. Add costumes for extra fun!

A Vintage Illustration of children reading together
  1. Create a family anthology of favorite poems or poems written (cool link there for creative writing worksheets!) and illustrated by family members in a blank book. Have plenty of pens, crayons, stickers and other embellishments on hand for decorating. Family members can add to the collection each year.

One of our family favorites is a book of poetry for all ages called The Waldorf Book of Poetry. Filled with hundreds of poems by both classic and modern poets and divided into sections like seasons, fables, animals, and history, it's easy to find something for everyone in your tribe to get excited about. Our copy is dog eared and has weathered a few spills, but the words inside still inspire. This week we will be selecting several verses to learn to celebrate Christmas. My husband's parents live in London and won't be with us in person this December, but a Skype recitation of a poem by my son on Christmas Eve will delight them!

I believe poetry is a priceless gift which nourishes the heart and soul. I hope I have inspired you to blend it into your Thanksgiving holiday if it did not have a seat at the table already. Does your family have an unusual Thanksgiving tradition? I'd love to hear about it!

Happy Thanksgiving from the Goodall family to yours!


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