Are you tired of the annual parade of pilgrim costumes and paper turkeys? Try incorporating a few of the following activities to help your kids get into the holiday spirit-- no peaked hats required.

The origins of Thanksgiving undoubtedly deserve their due respect, but the traditional lessons have grown cliché. Even worse, they miss an important aspect of the holiday: the celebration of hard work and dedication, and the beginning of the winter months.

While Thanksgiving is one of the few genuinely American holidays, nearly every culture throughout history has celebrated the completion of the harvest. This may be a foreign concept to most children, who typically spend much more time in the supermarket than in the fields. “[Thanksgiving] is a holiday celebrating our connectedness to all nature and to each other,” notes Bonnie Hallam, Associate Director of Early Childhood Initiatives with The Food Trust. She oversees the Kindergarten Initiative, a program to teach young children about food, farms, and nutrition. “Children need to understand the patterns of our world and how we as humans fit in with natural patterns.”

Even if a trip to the farm is out of the question, there are many ways to help your children make the connection between Thanksgiving and the food they eat. Try incorporating a few of the following activities to help both you and your children truly appreciate all the reasons they have to give thanks, as they look at what's on their plate:

  1. Review the menu. Cranberries, corn, pumpkin, and even turkey are all native to the Americas. But do your children know the source of these foods? The produce section of the grocery store might get dinner on the table, but it won’t build appreciation. Let your children taste cranberries before you add all of the sugar. Buy an ear of corn with the leaves still wrapped around it. Talk about how potatoes are actually roots that grow in the ground. And when dinner’s on the table, make a point of noticing how different everything looks and tastes when prepared.
  2. Talk with a farmer. Even urban areas feature local farmers’ markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). While most have closed by November, try to get in contact with one of the local producers and find out if they are still selling any produce. If you can’t find anyone to supply your dinner ingredients, attempt to give your children a chance to talk with a farmer about what he or she does. “When children make a relationship with the person who grows their food, they come to value that food more,” Hallam says. “They recognize that there is a person out there who is behind the harvest and it just doesn't happen by itself.” You can find local food producers at
  3. Learn more about harvest celebrations in other cultures. Take your child to the library and research Chuseok, the Korean festival that gives thanks to the ancestors for their bountiful blessings, or the Tamil festival of Pongal, where the “boiling over” of the harvest is celebrated with a bubbling vat of sweet rice. Just a little bit of research can open a window on the traditions of several ancient cultures. Today’s Thanksgiving holiday shares an important similarity: the expression of gratitude. Understanding the reason for this thanksgiving – the promise of food to last throughout the winter – will help your children get a sense of what this holiday is truly about, and give thanks accordingly.