Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Thanksgiving—it’s not just the day before Black Friday. 

So, if you’d like to cultivate more than your family’s appetite this year (though we fully support that, too!), we’ve curated some of our best articles to help you build gratitude, kindness, togetherness, and love this season. Now there’s something to be thankful for!

Read Stories Together to Build Empathy and Kindness

Writer Andrea Hunt reports on the evidence that reading fiction can help foster empathy, which she shares is increasingly recognized as a “superpower” in fields from education and business to science and technology. She shares that empathy is believed to increase everything from personal satisfaction and creativity to leadership and negotiation skills.

But, she says, empathy is declining and the U.S. has an “empathy deficit,” according to researchers. “It appears that as a society we’re becoming more narrow-minded, more disconnected,” Andrea writes, but “making a habit of it—for example practicing loving-kindness meditation—can make our brains grow.”

Read Andrea’s article on how reading fictional stories can help your child develop emotional intelligence. Then check out her curated list of picture books that support empathy.

Teach Kids Gratitude with a Sweet Craft

As adults, we may recognize that gratitude contributes powerfully to our mental and emotional well-being, and that practicing appreciation makes us happier as people. That it supports us to be more resilient and improve our relationships.

And sharing this knowledge with our children can be a priceless life lesson. As contributor Penny Sebring reports, a 2019 entry in the Journal of Happiness Studies found a positive correlation between gratitude and happiness in children as young as five years old. Numerous other studies have also found that gratitude can improve children’s and teens’ empathy and overall sense of satisfaction. 

That’s why Penny put together a Thanksgiving craft tutorial to make super-cute “words-of-gratitude” paper-chain animals. The craft emphasizes gratitude as you create adorable Thanksgiving decorations (and sneaks in some reading, writing, and spelling practice too)!

Cultivate Kindness by Supporting a Great Cause

You can help your family build emotional intelligence and cultivate thankfulness by engaging in an act of kindness together. Helping out a good cause will make your child proud and teach them they can take positive actions to make the world better, a very empowering realization.

There are many options to make a difference, from volunteering at a food bank to helping a neighbor to donating to a cause. And one cause close to our hearts is fighting illiteracy in our own neighborhoods and around the world.

Contributor Chrysta Naron curated a list of organizations around the world that support literacy and could use donations, volunteers, and books. Check it out for opportunities to make an impact this season.

Slow Down and Cook Together

This one may seem obvious on Thanksgiving, but the fact is that with small children, it can feel easier to cook without them. It’s well worth the trouble to do a little cooking together, though. The connection you build and interaction you share will set them up for success and fulfillment in so many ways, including developing language skills key to literacy!

Our Read With Me Recipes for Kids provide quick, easy recipes to make with small kids—in a printable format that’s specially designed to help them develop print awareness and reading skills. Try it out with our roasted pumpkin seed recipe, maybe with the seeds from a pie pumpkin!

Just keep in mind that while hours spent pottering in the kitchen together may sound idyllic, for cooking with the youngest kids to be successful, you should probably think more in terms of minutes than hours. And adding to family stress is definitely not the point. So our Read With Me Recipes are intentionally quick and simple to make. Bon apetit! 

Put in Quality Time Doing a Fun Learning Activity

If your little one thinks you’re always on your phone (well, after all, someone has to work/shop/check Instagram!), cooking dinner, or otherwise not paying enough attention to them, the holiday may be a great opportunity to slow down for some quality time. And sitting down to make some old-fashioned crafts together is a fun way to do just that.

In addition to the sweet paper-chain gratitude animals above, we have some other project tutorials that are perfect for the season. Check out our turkey letter-matching game or a fall-themed clip-card spelling activity. You can also explore our site to find lots more educational crafts and activities for kids.

Share Picture Books By and About Indigenous Americans

Chyrsta Naron, an early childhood educator as well as contributor to this site, reminds us that we parents have the power to change the world through the books we expose our children to. 

Chrysta quotes Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop: “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror.” 

Check out Chrysta’s post about books by and about Native Americans to create some of those mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors this year. 

P.S. We’re thankful for you! Happy Thanksgiving.