Children Learn About Pilgrim Life For Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving offers teacher Linda Ansick the opportunity to teach her kindergartners how they might have lived as Pilgrims and how Thanksgiving began as a harvest celebration of sharing.

"We have been learning about pioneer days and how Native American Indian families and pioneer families sometimes celebrated, sharing the food they harvested."

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Linda Ansick's kindergartners know when she says "criss cross apple sauce, sit on your pockets" that they are to sit with their legs crossed for story time. The range of fine-motor skills in 4- to 6-year-olds is broad. Cutting out tail feathers, wings and beaks for their turkey hats helps these skills develop.

Next week, as a fall project, each student is going to bring an apple. These aren't for the teacher; the youngsters will share their apples with one another and make applesauce. Ansick will peel the fruit and the students will cut it into chunky pieces with plastic knives, on paper plates. Then the apples will go into a Crock-Pot with water and a bit of sugar and cinnamon for the class Thanksgiving celebration.

The difference between the way in which people live now and how they lived nearly 400 years go is not a concept the young students are having an easy time understanding.

Through words, pictures and activities, along with questions and answers, Ansick said she could tell they are just beginning to "get it."

The other day a boy said he could have hunted a lot more before there were houses built everywhere.

"We talked about wild turkeys," Ansick said. "The students just in that moment realized that the turkeys they saw for sale in the grocery store were real birds."

When Ansick asked students how a little Pilgrim girl in a picture was dressed, a student said, "She's wearing a dress, like me, but she has a funny white cap on."

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Linda Ansick, Julia Randall Elementary School kindergarten teacher.

"What about the boy?" Ansick asked.

Students saw that his knit cap is similar to what children and adults wear today, but his short pants did not look like what boys wear to school now.

Ansick said she brings in a laundry basket and asks students what they would want to take for a journey across the ocean, but everything they are allowed to take must fit in the laundry basket.

"A lot of them do not realize that TVs, cars and trains are relatively new inventions," Ansick said.

Eventually they get away from wanting to bring their video games, to useful, important things, like pots and pans for cooking.

"Last year, my students kept saying, ‘We can get it at Wal-Mart.' It took a bit for them to comprehend that there could be a place with no stores, that shoes had to be made out of leather that came from animal hides," she said.

Pilgrim children didn't listen to their teacher read storybooks; instead they carried their Bibles and "hornbooks" to school.

A hornbook consisted of a piece of parchment pasted, most commonly, onto a wooden board with a handle. It was protected by a leaf of horn (horn material pounded thin and treated to make a clear, protective piece). It was usually a sample of upper and lowercase ABCs and their sounds, Ansick said.

"Learning to read is something that, in part, just emerges from a child," Ansick said, describing her classroom with its words next to pictures as a "print-rich environment."

They will make an "I am thankful for ..." book, with pictures of what they are thankful for, and then Ansick will help them write the word if they don't already know it.

She reads to her students at least half-an-hour each day, in addition to giving them their math and writing lessons.

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