Four learning activities that explore the customs of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people of the 17th century
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
Play Dress Up
17th-century dress was drastically different from the clothing of today. Have students explore Colonial styles online. Invite them to discuss the differences between men's and women's clothing, the clothing of the Pilgrims versus that of the Wampanoag, and 21st- and 17th-century clothes. Then host a mini Thanksgiving dinner in your classroom — in colonial fashion, of course! Children can dress either like a Pilgrim or a Wampanoag person. They can wear beads like the Wampanoag, hats like the Pilgrim boys, or a scarf around their heads to symbolize coifs (close-fitting caps worn by Pilgrim girls).
Exchange for Elders
The Pilgrims and Wampanoag often exchanged goods through bartering. Encourage children to practice their negotiation skills while making a simple craft: appreciation banners for the senior citizens in your community, in the spirit of the Wampanoag tradition of honoring elders. First, brainstorm as a class ways in which local elders helped to shape the heritage and history of your community. Then divide the class into two groups. Give one group strips of 1' x 3' paper and pencils, and the other group colored markers and your list of the contributions made by senior citizens. Invite both groups to engage in friendly bartering to obtain all the craft materials that they need to complete their thank-yous. Then arrange a visit to a local retirement center to deliver the banners!
Make a Pledge
The Wampanoag viewed themselves as caretakers of the land, not as its owners. They respected the land's resources in order to preserve them for future generations. Remind students that, similarly, classroom property belongs to the school community — not just to your class — and should be used with respect for future students. Encourage children to write pledges to take care of the items entrusted to them. Then have them top their pledges with cutouts of their own hands raised in a pledge position. You can extend this activity by having children discuss the resources available to the larger community. Ask them to brainstorm ways in which they can take care of their neighborhood and natural environment, such as by volunteering and picking up litter.
Eating with fingers might horrify Miss Manners today, but this was common practice during Pilgrim times. Encourage your students to research additional Colonial customs, using resources such as Lucille Recht Penner's Eating the Plates (MacMillan, 1991). Ask them to list their findings on chart paper and compare each with customs of today. Then, invite children to use the Thanksgiving: Then & Now Reproducible (PDF) to create booklets comparing modern mealtimes to the manners at the Pilgrim table.
To make the booklets, guide children through these steps:
- Color and cut out the patterns and fact strips. Draw a picture or place a photo of yourself inside the dotted circles.
- Write "Thanksgiving: Then & Now" at the top center of a sheet of construction paper. Cut white paper to the size of the patterns. Stack four pages behind each pattern and place along a bottom corner of the construction paper. Staple the pages along the side edge.
- Glue one fact strip to each page on the Pilgrim Times side of the booklet. Illustrate it, then write and illustrate a corresponding fact from today on each Today page. Write a paragraph about your own Thanksgiving traditions above the booklet.