With Thanksgiving just around the corner, here’s a question for all you U.S.-based parents. Have your kids learned yet why we celebrate this holiday, and what the story behind it is? Need help? This Thanksgiving Bead Bracelet is a sweet craft to do with your preschoolers or elementary-school students, while teaching them about the first Thanksgiving in what’s now the United States.
This Thanksgiving Bead Bracelet is what’s called a “story bracelet.” and the bracelet itself will help TEACH them part of the story behind the first Thanksgiving! Plus the beads will then serve as nifty reminders of the story’s key points. (More at the end of this post about the storied past of “story bracelets.”)
This is a super-simple craft that requires only two items, and takes maybe 15 minutes to make. And it’s perfect for doing at home with your kids as a fun weekend activity, but it can also scale up for classroom settings. (I first learned about it when helping out at my girls’ kindergarten and first-grade Thanksgiving celebrations at school.)
Thanksgiving Bead Bracelet Craft & Poem
While I first encountered this poem at my kids’ school, its original author (far as I can tell) was Dr. Jean Feldman. Dr. Jean, as she’s known on her website, is a renowned educator and author of numerous books, many geared toward preschool and elementary school teachers. I’ve adapted her poem slightly to make it easier to read while you’re actually doing the craft with your child.
What you need:
You only need two things for this craft:
- Regular chenille stems (pipe cleaners) – any color will do, but I always like to use brown to symbolize the Mayflower
- Pony beads in assorted colors (for each bracelet, you’ll need one bead each in black, white, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, and blue)
For each bracelet, you’ll need one pipe cleaner and eight beads, in this order: white, blue, green, black, brown, red, yellow, and orange.
Slowly read through this poem with your child, starting with the pipe cleaner in your hand. As you reach each UNDERLINED/CAPS word in the poem, pause for a moment and have your child slide the corresponding bead onto the bracelet. Then, at the end, twist the pipe-cleaner ends together at the part where “they all held hands” to form a bracelet.
For a FREE printable form of the poem and directions, click HERE.
Thanksgiving Story Bracelet
With this bracelet you will know
The first Thanksgiving that was long, long ago.
The Pilgrims set sail from far away
On the Mayflower with tall WHITE sails.
They sailed many days across the ocean BLUE.
The seas were rough, but the ship came through.
At last they spotted land so GREEN,
They were so happy they cheered and screamed!
The first year was so hard and BLACK,
Many died, or wished that they could go back.
But the Native Americans gave them a hand
And helped them survive in the strange new land.
They decided to celebrate in a special way
And that became the first Thanksgiving day.
They prepared a feast with turkeys BROWN
And RED cranberries that they had found,
YELLOW corn that they’d learned to grow,
And ORANGE pumpkin pies, don’t you know!
But before they ate the turkey and dressing,
THEY ALL HELD HANDS for a thankful blessing!
Tips, tricks, and hints:
- This is a great educational activity on so many levels. Younger children can practice color recognition and fine motor skills. Older children can practice their reading skills. If you have older kids and younger kids, maybe they can all do this activity together!
- If you’re having a hard time finding one of the colors of pony beads that you need, you can substitute a different color (e.g., use tan beads instead of brown). Or you can also purchase single-color packages.
- The trickiest part of making this craft (as I’ve learned the hard way) is twisting the ends around at the end. You have to be careful to do it in such a way that they don’t scratch the wearer!
There’s two sides to every story…
Did you know that the history of stringing beads to tell a story goes WAY back, to before Europeans first settled in what is now the United States?
Eastern Woodlands tribes of native peoples (the broader cultural grouping that inhabited much of what’s now the northeast, including where the Pilgrims landed) had a long history of stringing beads together to record and commemorate important events. These beaded items, made of purple and whitish beads carved from quahog (COE-hog) and whelk shells, are known as wampum.
While most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving as a national day of gratitude, many descendants of this continent’s earliest occupants instead mark the fourth Thursday of November as a national day of mourning. If you try and think about this for a moment from their perspective, this makes perfect sense. Especially when you consider the Thanksgiving history that students in U.S. public schools traditionally learn. Far as anyone can tell, after that first Thanksgiving, the native peoples of southern New England just disappeared.
To be fair, many of them did succumb to disease or assimilation. But having grown up in southern New England, I can assure you that plenty of their descendants are still around.
But how to make this a “teachable moment” for kids?
I can understand that parents of very small children might prefer to gloss over these details when teaching their kiddos about the history of Thanksgiving. But as someone who taught U.S. history until the girls were born, I can’t ignore the fact that every history has at least two sides. So,
- For younger children, I encourage you to discuss with your child the fact that “story bracelets” can trace back to the “story beads” (wampum) used by the native peoples who lived in the region the Pilgrims “discovered.”
- Another super “teachable moment” is to ask your kids, regardless of their age, how the native peoples might have felt about the European strangers just showing up and moving into their backyard. (My girls and I are reading through the Little House books right now, and we find ourselves having lots of conversations along these lines!)
- Having conversations like this with your child on a regular basis helps to teach them empathy, and is useful for teaching them to resolve arguments. (It might also make them better behaved over time, because you can get them to put themselves in the parents’ shoes when trying to help them make better choices. We have regular conversations about this when kiddos get lazy about doing their chores, which sometimes makes just walking through our house downright dangerous!)
- For older children, you might share with them the first three paragraphs (or more) of this story, which explains why some native peoples have a hard time giving thanks on the fourth Thursday in November.
Ready to make this Thanksgiving bead craft with your children? Please share by pinning this image!