Whether you are looking for activities to keep kids engaged while grown-ups focus on Thanksgiving meal prep or ways for kids and grownups to connect and share some laughs together, it can help to have some activities in your back pocket. So, as part of our November Activity Calendar, we are sharing some of our favorite Thanksgiving games that are versatile and open-ended enough to engage and appeal to a wide range of ages.
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Hand kids a large cooking spoon and a potato or yam and invite them to try balancing the potato inside the spoon. Then, mark a starting place and finish line in your outdoor space and challenge kids to race as fast as they can across the finish line without dropping their potato.
Invite kids to step inside a pillowcase or other cloth sack and hop from one point to another outside. Kids can place their finish line farther out each time for an extra challenge or use a timer to see how quickly they can hop.
Thanksgiving scavenger hunt:
Collect some ingredients from your Thanksgiving meal (e.g. cranberries, corn husks, potatoes, spices, pumpkins) and hide them around your yard or outdoor space for kids to find.
Guess that spice:
Place a variety of cooking spices (e.g. cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, oregano) inside paper bags or opaque containers (i.e. yogurt or other recycled container) with a tissue secured on top so that the contents are hidden. Invite kids to smell each container and describe how the mystery ingredients smell. Which smells does your child like the most? The least? Then, invite your child to guess the mystery scents before revealing what is inside.
Turkey baster race:
Hand kids a turkey baster and challenge them to squeeze it and blow a feather or leaf all the way across the floor. If kids are enjoying using this fun kitchen tool, offer two containers or bowls, fill one with water and challenge kids to see how fast they can transfer water from one container to the other.
Challenge kids to see how quickly they can roll a pumpkin from the starting place to a finish line. Kids can use their hands to roll or use a sturdy stick to push their pumpkin.
Pumpkin boat race:
Scoop out the inside of a pumpkin or gourd to transform it into a floating boat (see this DIY activity here)! Find passengers in the form of acorns, pine cones, pebbles, twigs, legos or other objects. See how many small objects can take a sail in your pumpkin "boat" without sinking it. If kids make multiple boats, make a regatta of your own by racing them in the bathtub or a large container.
Waddle from a starting place to a finish line with a potato or ball between your knees. For an extra dose of silliness, flag arms like a turkey or make gobble noises as you race.
Line up an assortment of gourds or butternut squash and use a ball to knock them over!
Invite each kid and grownup to write or draw something they are thankful for on a piece of paper. Fold up the papers and place them inside a jar. Then, each player takes a turn to select a piece of paper and act out the gratitude for the group to guess.
Why is this activity great for kids?
With the right objects and open-ended invitations to play, kids of all different ages can play happily alongside or even collaboratively in the same space. Fun, physical challenges are marvelous ways to help kids focus their energy, stay active and give kids practice with persistence and grit. And, adding silliness to your family get-togethers is a super way to spark joy, an emotion that impacts our bodies and our minds in lasting ways.
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Gross motor skills involve movement and use of the large muscles of the body (e.g. those in our arms, legs and trunk/torso) that enable such functions as walking, running, sitting upright, climbing, and throwing.
In the first 16 months of the average baby’s life, she rapidly acquires significant gross motor skills: rolling over, sitting up, standing, crawling and walking. Toddlers and young children go on to build gross motor skills such as throwing and catching a ball, balancing on a log, jumping, and running in a game of tag.
Gross motor skills develop through practice and repetition, which is why a baby takes weeks to perfect each new milestone motor skill, and a child will attempt that same climbing stunt again and again or take a whole season to learn how to throw or catch a ball successfully.
Each child develops at his or her own pace and in his or her own way. Typical gross motor skills development also requires that the brain, spine, nerves and muscles need to be intact and undamaged. If damage has occurred through birth trauma, accident or illness, then progress of motor skills, as that of other skills, may be not resemble the notes below.
Why does it matter?
Gross motor skills are essential for every day, important body movements including walking, keeping balance, reaching, lifting and even sitting. These skills are essential for getting around, accessing the things we need and participating in games, sports and other activities that promote wellness, social development and learning. Gross motor skills are also necessary for other physical functions. For example, a child’s ability to sit and hold his upper body strong and steady will likely impact his ability to use his hands to write, draw and cut as well as his ability to follow instructions and participate actively in a classroom setting.
Typical Gross Motor Development by age:
Babies learn to walk well, skip, jump, and run. They learn to climb on stairs, logs, small ladders and age appropriate playground equipment (or, if like ours, on equipment designed for kids much older!). They also enjoy moving and grooving to music.
Toddlers run, jump and climb with improved coordination. Toddlers start to enjoy playing games that coordinate more than one gross motor skill like those that involve running, kicking and/or climbing. Toddlers also enjoy experimenting with movement in certain directions such as: forwards and backwards; in straight lines; rotating until dizzy, etc.
Large muscle movement grows more coordinated. Children can run faster and switch both terrain and direction with much more ease, making chasing games and races both fun and helpful. Many children this age begin to use pedal toys and attempt to hop with both feet and then on one foot while keeping their balance. They can toss objects in the direction of a target and play catch at short distances.
Large muscle movement grows even stronger and more coordinated. Most children master the hopping with one or both feet. They can run, jump forward and often skip. They can throw objects and often hit a target. Games that involve kicking and throwing while running are now possible and fun. Toddlers this age love to balance on the edges of objects and walk in straight lines. Movement that is rhythmic is both highly engaging and possible.
Large muscle movement only continues to grow stronger and coordinated as children’s energy level soars at this age. Most kids can hop, skip, and even jump rope. They easily throw balls at targets and are improving their ability to catch balls that are tossed to them. Kids this age start to take more risks with their climbing, making it an great age to begin climbing trees, challenging logs and rocks.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?
Persistence & Grit
What are Persistence & Grit?
A persistent person can continue on a given course of action in spite of challenges or barriers that arise. In other words, persistence is the ability to stick with something and keep trying. It's partner, grit, is the strength of character, and sometimes courage, to allow one to persist. Those who possess grit don't mind rolling up their sleeves, focusing on the task at hand, and sticking with it to completion despite the challenges that come their way.
Why does it matter?
Talent is helpful, but it's hard work, persistence and grit that unlock talent and turn capable people into success stories. As Thomas Edison so famously said, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Practice with being persistent, including the chance to struggle and learn how to overcome struggle, will help kids later have ability to wade through and make sense of confusing new information, navigate difficult situations, and solve tough problems.
Further, studies like those discussed in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock tell us that kids will actually perform better when we praise their hard work instead of just telling them how smart or great they are. As parents, we also tend to offer kids activities which are enjoyable and attainable and, as such, too easy. Bear in mind that if we spare them frustration, we actually deny them the chance to work hard and develop persistence and grit.
What is Teamwork?
Teamwork is the ability to be both an individual contributor and a supportive member of a group. Not easy for little ones, but never too early to start learning how. Although the notion of teamwork seems rather self explanatory, the combination of skills that are required for kids to effectively work on a team is rather complex. People can work effectively in a group when they have a sense of their own strengths and needs, the ability to understand the needs and motivations of others, the ability to agree and focus on a common goal, and the capacity to adjust their personal needs for the good of the group. Needless to say, young kids are too young to master these skills, but they can make tremendous progress if we give them genuine experience with teamwork and help them develop the foundations that underlie this more complex set of skills.
On a most basic level, kids start to build teamwork skills as they learn to negotiate and share limited resources. Anyone who has kids know that these skills do not come naturally, but are developed with age and practice. Kids who have experience sharing and working in groups without the dominant management of parent or authority figure (e.g. the good old pick-up game of kick-the-can that was managed only by the kids in the neighborhood) get much more opportunity to develop the self awareness and skills needed for effective collaboration. The more chances we give kids to feel the pleasure in sharing and giving, the more quickly they become effective at sharing. In addition, when we model how to set a goal and allow kids to practice working towards that goal, we model the behavior they will eventually adopt as their won. Finally, when they experience success as a member of a team, they develop a lasting sense of the power of teamwork and the motivation to start to value a team over themselves.
Why does it matter?
Collaboration makes the cut on nearly every list of top 21st-century skills—and it has become not just a goal but a requirement for most jobs. Technology increasingly enables people to work together with people who differ by geography, culture and mindset, and businesses and institutions worldwide expect employees to work effectively in both face-to-face and in virtual teams. Those who collaborate effectively will not only be effective workers but will be poised to help find solutions to the increasingly complicated challenges this young generation will face.
Further, in most schools from elementary level up, kids get more out of the curriculum if they know how to work well in groups, and this trend of increased peer-to peer-teaching and learning is only gaining ground in older school years. Research even shows that how well young children solve simple problems in groups predicts how they will transition to and fare in formal schooling.