Thanksgiving Activities for Older Kids

Thanksgiving activities

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Thanksgiving is an important time for families to get together, make new memories, and enjoy time off from school and work. If your child is older—a tween or preteen—they may need a bit of extra encouragement when it comes to helping prepare for the big meal or spending time with family. Ahead of the holiday, take a few moments to plan for new traditions to implement with your children—whether it's whipping up an appetizer, volunteering in your town, or expressing thankfulness, the memories you create will last far beyond the last leftovers in your fridge. These Thanksgiving activities offer up easy (and fun!) ways to include your older children in the holiday, all while passing on priceless lessons that will stay with them long after the holiday has gone.

Style the Dinner Table

One of the best ways to involve an older child in Thanksgiving prep is to ask them to dress the table themselves. You can use this as an opportunity to teach your child about the proper way to set a formal table or encourage them to bring a bit of their style and creativity to the task. Ask them to craft up place cards for each guest, come up with a fun dinnertime activity to keep younger kids engaged, or allow them to pick out a special tablecloth to jazz up the dinner scene.

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Make a Batch of Snack Mix

Your guests will probably want a snack to hold them over until dinner is ready on Thanksgiving day. This easy cooking project is ideal for a teen or tween looking to help out in the kitchen, as it allows them to be helpful and creative without tasking them with any recipes too important to the main meal. Have your child start with a traditional Chex Mix base, then allow them to pick from a selection of nuts, dried fruits, seeds, and any other fall-themed goodies that come to mind. The best part: Any leftovers can be stored in an air-tight container to send off to school with your child post-holiday.

Snack mix of nuts and candy
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Volunteer With Your Tween

If you find yourselves with a few free days around the Thanksgiving holiday, make plans to fit in some volunteering with your child. Donating your time to those less fortunate is a great way to share important values with your child and show them that sometimes the best way to celebrate a holiday is to make it special for someone else. Ask your local church or food bank if they need help serving their patrons, or simply help out an elderly neighbor or relative who may be alone during the holiday season.

Create a Gratitude Journal Together

Thanksgiving is about spending time with family, being thankful for all we have, and maintaining a sense of gratitude. Acknowledging and expressing that gratitude is an important tool for developing compassion for others, and there's no better time to help your child learn this than around the holidays. To aid in this lesson, gift your tween or teen a gratitude journal ahead of Thanksgiving. They can fill it out however they like, but if they need a prompt to start, ask them to begin by elaborating on three things they're thankful for.

Go even further and set an example for your child by working on a gratitude journal of your own. You can even make it a daily ritual you do together for the duration of the holiday season (no need to stop after Thanksgiving!). Some days may be easier than others, but finding the good in even the most difficult days will be an important life lesson for your child (even funny entries, like "We didn't run out of toilet paper" can help grow a sense of gratitude!). Plus, the journal will serve as a great outlet for any difficult feelings of anger or resentment you child may encounter while spending time with family over the holidays. Bottom line: A gratitude journal is a great holiday habit to start now—and an even better one to continue to encourage all year long.

Journal entry
The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Create New Holiday Traditions

Many families have holiday traditions they look forward to year after year. It's likely you don't know just how much those traditions mean to your tweens—they probably wait 365 days just to decorate the house with you, sing carols in anticipation of Christmas, or go on a post-turkey hike on Thanksgiving. Be sure to make time this year for all your typical holiday traditions and encourage your older children to come up with a few new ones of their own.

Any traditions you do as a family probably started when your children were small and may even be hold-overs from your own upbringing. Definitely not a bad thing, but it also doesn't take into consideration any new, more grown-up desires your teen or tween may have developed over the years. Who knows—they may be dying to visit a local museum's historical Thanksgiving exhibit or want to go Black Friday shopping with their chore money. This year is the perfect time to incorporate traditions both old and new into your holiday plans.