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We don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving can be…well…a little chaotic at our houses, especially with so many little ones in the mix. while it can be tempting to turn on a movie marathon and settle the kids onto beanbag chairs with a little Chex mix (no judgment here), sometimes we want our children to be more involved in the holiday–without getting too underfoot.

Ideas for Keeping Children Occupied on Thanksgiving

Here are some ideas for keeping kids occupied while food is being prepared:

  1. Homemade placemats. This activity can be as simple or complex as you’d like it to be. Put together the supplies, add a list of all of your table guests for your kids to reference, then let them get creative!
  2. Outdoor obstacle course. Let your little turkeys get some fresh air while keeping them occupied on Thanksgiving with an outdoor obstacle course. The sky is the limit, but we recommend courses that include leaf piles to jump into, tunnels made of card tables covered in a blanket, use a spare 2×4 as a balance beam, and hula hoops to jump into.
  3. Scavenger hunt. This one can be pre-planned or spontaneous. “Find something blue.” Draw a picture of a bug you see outside.” “Find a perfect fall leaf.” “Find something outside that is shaped like a rainbow.” Have a list ready to go or come up with ideas on the spot!
  4. Designate a “craft leader.” Do you have young aunts or uncles coming who wouldn’t mind watching over kids for a bit? Put them in charge of overseeing crafts. This gives them an easy way to be involved and keeps you from having to set up, monitor, and clean up crafts.
  5. Turkey tag. Teach one of the older kids how to play Turkey Tag, then let them take it from there. To avoid being tagged, quickly drop to. sitting position and name your favorite Thanksgiving food.
  6. Window stickers. Windows stickers are the sticky, jelly-like reusable decorations that you can put on windows without leaving a residue. Buy a stack for the kids at your Thanksgiving, then set them to decorating the glass! If you can’t find window stickers, window markers work just as well.
  7. Kid Game Olympics. From Twister to H.O.R.S.E., MarioKart to Trouble, games are more fun–and occupy children on Thanksgiving better–when they’re part of a larger competition. Use a whiteboard to track winners of each game (or assign points with a tiered point system based on age) and award medals at Thanksgiving Dinner.
  8. Put on a play. Do you have create kiddos? Ask one of the older kids to be a director for a Thanksgiving performance. Your kids can put on a musical act, play, dance, talent show, or parade! If your children are prone to arguing, it can be helpful to put an older family member in charge of being a co-director.
  9. Sous chefs. Are there certain parts of the Thanksgiving meal that you are willing to give up control over? Find little ways to let your children be sous chefs. Just make sure to let go of the need for it to be perfect, or it can end up being more frustrating than beneficial. Can children help husk corn, trim green beans, peel or mash potatoes, tear bread for stuffing, put brown sugar and marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole, etc.
  10. Read-a-thon fort. Set up a blanket fort with some pillows, blankets, and bowls of light snacks, then let your kids settle in for a read-a-thon. True, they probably won’t read for more than 10-15 minutes if you’re lucky, but after they’ve hit their personal limit of reading fun, they’re sure to find more ways to enjoy the fort.
  11. Outdoor campout. Keep children occupied on Thanksgiving by letting them play pretend outside. Set up a tent with some sleeping bags and snacks, put together backpacks with water bottles, give them a couple pairs of binoculars, then set the scene. This one can be more successful with an older child (or younger aunt or uncle) in charge of being the “story leader” who helps prompt new adventures when the younger children run out of ideas.
  12. Photographers. Let your kids know that you’d like to document the big day, then give them cameras to take photos. Remind them to take pictures of everyone at different stages of holiday prep, as well as decorations, family pets, the weather, and more. Depending on the technology you have available, you can also have them print out and frame some of their favorites in handmade frames for the table centerpiece.

Do you have any ideas to add? What has worked well for you in the past? Let us know in the comments below!

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