Most people think of Thanksgiving as a holiday centered on eating. But Thanksgiving is really about gathering with family and friends to enjoy time together and share our gratitude for one another.
If you’re having a few adults over for a Friendsgiving, a deck of cards, a bottle of wine, and some conversation will keep you entertained for hours. But when you’re hosting the whole family, it’s challenging to find activities that keep people of all ages entertained. Kids get bored. Screens turn teenagers into zombies. And everyone else is off cooking or watching the football game.
So this year, make some multigenerational fun with kid-friendly Thanksgiving activities that create opportunities for family bonding. As an added bonus, all of these ideas are low-cost or free, which is excellent news when you’re saving money for holiday shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
Craft projects keep little hands occupied while adults are cooking or chatting. But they’re equally fun for adults with a crafty or artistic side.
1. Handprint Turkeys
Have everyone trace their hands onto paper. Decorate the thumb as the turkey’s head and the fingers as the feathers. In each feather, ask them to write one thing they’re grateful for. It’s fun to collect these annually and store them in a file or binder. You get to see how kids’ sense of appreciation changes as they get older.
Then, have everyone attach their turkeys with clothespins to a line of ribbon and hang the finished project as decorative Thanksgiving bunting.
2. Turkey Hats
Kids really get into the spirit of the holiday with costume craft activities like paper hats. They’re an easy project, and you probably have most of the supplies on hand.
- Make the Headband. Use scissors to cut a sheet of construction paper in the color of your choice into approximately 1-inch-wide strips of paper. Use tape to attach strips of paper end-to-end to make a headband long enough to encircle the child’s head. Then tape the ends of the headband closed.
- Make the Turkey’s Body. From the brown construction paper, cut one circle approximately 3 inches in diameter and another circle approximately 2 inches in diameter. Using the glue stick, glue the smaller circle to the larger circle as if you were making a snowman, overlapping them slightly.
- Make the Turkey’s Feathers. From the red, yellow, and orange construction paper, cut five or six feather shapes approximately 5 to 6 inches in length — long enough so they’ll be about twice the length of the turkey’s body. Glue the feathers to the back of the turkey’s body, splayed out in a fan shape.
- Make the Turkey’s Face. Glue two googly eyes to the turkey’s head. From orange construction paper, cut a small triangle and glue it to the turkey’s head to make a beak. Using red construction paper, cut a small squiggly shape to make a turkey wattle.
- Finish the Hat. Glue the completed turkey to the front of the headband.
Find other hat ideas, like pilgrim hats and bonnets, at Parents Magazine.
3. Gratitude Jewelry
Have kids make their own wearable statements of thanks with a gratitude necklace or bracelet. Pick up a pack of word beads or alphabet beads, as well as colorful spacer beads and nylon cord. Then have kids choose words that represent the things they’re grateful for and string them on the cord with a spacer bead between each word. At the end, they’ll have made a special keepsake to take home.
See an image of what these could look like at Country Living.
4. Butcher Paper Table Cloth
Plain brown kraft paper is much less expensive than a fancy tablecloth, and it makes the perfect foundation for a Thanksgiving tablescape. Use a standard-size role as a table runner or buy a jumbo roll the width of your table. Then set out crayons or markers and have everyone in the family decorate the “tablecloth.”
Let kids do this as a predinner activity. Or have everyone write what they’re grateful for during dinner and use it as a conversation starter by having everyone share what they wrote.
5. Burlap Placemats
Butcher paper isn’t the only frugal table covering kids enjoy decorating. Burlap is another inexpensive material that gives your table a fall look. Purchase enough burlap to make placemats or a table runner, then simply cut them to size. A standard-size placemat is 12 inches by 18 inches, but cut them as big as you like.
There’s no need to hem them. Burlap looks even more rustic when it’s frayed. So pull threads out around the edges to create fringe. Then have kids decorate them using kid-safe washable craft paint. Let them make fall designs using leaf-shaped stamps, or paint their hands and have them “stamp” the burlap to make handprint turkeys.
Find the full instructions for handprint turkeys on Meaningful Mama.
6. Turkey Napkin Folds
In addition to helping you throw a green Thanksgiving, folding reusable cloth napkins creatively makes for a fun activity for kids and adults alike. To make turkeys, fold the napkin in a fan shape and then tuck it in the back of a pinecone decorated to look like a turkey body.
Find the full instructions on Between Naps on the Porch.
7. Beaded Napkin Rings
If you can’t find any pinecones, have kids make beaded napkin rings by stringing fall-colored beads on stretchy elastic thread or craft wire. When they’ve strung enough beads to keep the napkin rolled without pinching it, knot or twist the ends of the thread or wire to secure them.
Find the full instructions on Buggy and Buddy.
8. Coloring Page Placemats
If the adult coloring book craze has taught us anything, it’s that you’re never too old for coloring pages.
Set up a multigenerational coloring station and stock it with Thanksgiving-themed coloring pages in a variety of skill levels. There are many available for free online — just type “free Thanksgiving coloring pages” into your browser’s search bar. Then set out colored pencils, markers, and crayons so artists can use the instruments of their choice.
To preserve the coloring pages beyond a single Thanksgiving feast, use self-adhesive laminating sheets.
9. Natural Centerpiece
Encourage kids to get outdoors by having them collect objects from nature to use as a Thanksgiving centerpiece. Think pinecones, acorns, colorful leaves, and twigs. Place several candles a few inches apart in a long wooden planter box and fill in the space with your collection. Or scatter them like confetti over your butcher paper or burlap runner for a beautiful fall effect.
Kids look forward to the time they get off from school for Thanksgiving break, so look for educational activities that don’t feel like homework. From reading challenges to science experiments, learning with these activities is actually a lot of fun.
10. Thanksgiving History Trivia Challenge
Turn learning about history into a game with a Thanksgiving history trivia challenge. This activity requires using computers, smartphones, or tablets. So screens are involved, but at least they’re for a positive educational experience.
Divide into teams, and have each team research some history about Thanksgiving. That could include facts about the first Thanksgiving, its designation as a national holiday, Thanksgiving traditions like food, and the Macy’s parade — anything you can think of.
When the research is complete, each team turns their researched facts into trivia questions, which they use to quiz the other team. Each team takes a turn asking the other team questions, and the team with the most correct answers wins.
If you’d rather use prewritten questions, print the free Thanksgiving trivia game on Alpha Mom.
Although this activity isn’t suitable for very young children, varying the ages on each team allows kindergarteners and even preschoolers to participate. Have older family members help younger ones who aren’t able to read but can identify images and weigh in on ideas.
11. Reading Challenge
This Thanksgiving, encourage your kids to read more by turning it into a fun game. Set out a basket of books at appropriate reading levels and have kids who can read complete a reading challenge. Make a list of things associated with Thanksgiving, like turkeys, pumpkin pie, family, Native Americans, and Pilgrims. Then have kids read one book for each word on the list — no overlap. If one Thanksgiving book mentions family, turkeys, and pumpkin pie, kids can only count it for one.
Anyone who completes the reading challenge wins, so be sure to have small prizes, like candy, on hand for all players.
For younger kids who aren’t yet able to read, rope in someone who isn’t cooking to read to them. Have the child pick out a book, and if it mentions one of the chosen words, the reader can check that one off the child’s list.
Here are some great Thanksgiving books to consider:
Books About Celebrating the Holiday
- “Sarah Gives Thanks: How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday” by Mike Allegra gives a historical look at the woman who dedicated her life to making Thanksgiving a national holiday.
- “Giving Thanks” by Chief Jake Swamp is a children’s version of the Thanksgiving Address — a message of gratitude that originated with Native Americans in upstate New York and Canada.
- “T Is for Turkey: A True Thanksgiving Story” by Tanya Lee Stone is a rhyming alphabet book that tells the story of the first Thanksgiving.
- “Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade” by Melissa Sweet tells the story of Tony Sarg, the puppeteer who invented the giant balloon puppets that have become iconic symbols of the parade.
- “Thanksgiving Rules” by Laurie Friedman is about a boy named Percy who has a lot of rules about how to eat his way through a Thanksgiving feast. But along the way, he learns there’s more to Thanksgiving than just the food.
Books to Encourage Gratitude
- “The Berenstain Bears and the Prize Pumpkin” by Stan and Jan Berenstain follows the bear family as they enter their homegrown pumpkin in a competition at their local fair. When they don’t win, they take a moment to reflect on everything they’re thankful for.
- “Being Thankful” by Mercer Mayer features the popular children’s book character Critter, who is jealous of his friends until his grandmother shows him how to appreciate what he has instead of wishing for more.
- “Thanks a Million” by Nikki Grimes is a collection of 16 poems focusing on ways to feel and express gratitude.
- “Those Shoes” by Maribeth Boelts is about a boy who really wants the fancy high-top sneakers everyone at his school is wearing. But his grandmother can only afford the pair of new boots he needs for winter.
Books About Diversity & Inclusion
- “How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story” by Eve Bunting tells the story of an immigrant family and their journey to America.
- “The Thanksgiving Door” by Debby Atwell is the story of an elderly couple who decides to go out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving only to discover it’s closed. The family who owns the restaurant is inside celebrating and decides to include the couple in their holiday celebrations.
- “Duck for Turkey Day” by Jacqueline Jules is about a girl who has a problem with her family having duck for Thanksgiving until she hears from her classmates all the diverse things they do for Thanksgiving.
12. Turkey Balloon Rockets
Get everyone involved in a fun STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activity by racing turkey rockets made of decorated balloons along string “racetracks.” This is a simple science lesson in propulsion and action/reaction.
Find the full instructions, including the science behind the experiment, on Growing a Jeweled Rose.
13. Leaf Chromatography
Discover why leaves change colors with this chemistry experiment. Have kids gather leaves in various colors, and use coffee filters in place to separate them into color bands. Crush each leaf individually, soak it in rubbing alcohol, and then insert coffee filter strips. After a short wait, a range of colors will be revealed on the paper.
Find full instructions, including the science behind the experiment, on Playdough to Plato.
14. Dancing Corn
This is a fun science experiment you can do with supplies you probably already have at home.
- A clear glass cup or Mason jar
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- Popcorn kernels
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- Fill the Mason jar about 2/3 full with water.
- Stir the baking soda into the water until it dissolves completely.
- Toss in a handful of popcorn kernels.
- Very slowly, add in the white vinegar.
- Step back and watch as the corn “dances” up and down!
Here’s the science behind this one: When vinegar and baking soda combine, they release carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gas bubbles form around the corn kernels and lift them. Then, as the gas is released, the kernels sink back down. This makes them appear as though they’re dancing in the jar.
15. Cranberry Structures
Take playing with your food to the next level with these cranberry structures that require engineering skills. For this activity, you only need two supplies: a box of toothpicks and a bag of cranberries. Set them out and have the kids see what they can build. As they create elaborate shapes and structures, they’ll develop skills with weights and balances and enhance their understanding of engineering.
Find full instructions and printable structure challenges on Little Bins for Little Hands.
16. Make Thanksgiving-Themed Slime or Playdough
Slime and playdough aren’t just messy substances kids love to squish between their fingers. Playing with these gooey concoctions also involves a ton of science learning and cognitive development.
Making slime is chemistry in action. It involves understanding how ingredients come together to form certain kinds of polymers — a chemical compound comprised of long repeating chains of molecules. This is what makes slime hold together.
To make slime Thanksgiving-themed, start with a basic slime recipe and then add in orange food coloring, metallic leaf confetti, or fall-colored glitter.
Find the full recipe on Little Bins for Little Hands.
Playdough is an excellent sensory activity for preschoolers and younger kids. Sensory activities — those that involve using the five senses — encourage cognitive development through exploration and play.
Make your everyday playdough special for Thanksgiving with a homemade pumpkin-scented batch. Then set up your youngest guests with some playdough tools — like cookie cutters, mini rolling pins, and pie tins.
Find the full recipe on Small + Friendly.
It’s challenging to keep the whole family entertained solely with crafts and science experiments. They’re over so quickly! But games — especially board games and card games — keep all generations of players occupied for hours.
17. Puzzle Games: Crosswords, Word Searches, & Sudoku
Although puzzle games are typically a solitary activity, you can make them a group challenge by racing each other to see who can finish first. It’s even possible to make them a team activity by relay racing and tagging in each next player.
these games frugal with free Thanksgiving-themed printable puzzle games found on the Internet. Here are a few to get you started.
- The Holiday Zone has two adult skill-level Thanksgiving crosswords, both with answer keys, that will draw on your knowledge of holiday trivia: Talking Turkey crossword and The First Thanksgiving crossword.
- Better Homes & Gardens has a Thanksgiving crossword good for older kids.
- School Family has a Thanksgiving trivia crossword suitable for young kids.
- The Tom’s Turkey word search at Better Homes & Gardens is part of an activity page that doubles as a placemat.
- Spruce Crafts has a roundup of Thanksgiving word searches for a variety of ages.
- Find a roundup of word searches of various difficulty levels at Big Activities.
- Find an easy Thanksgiving-themed Sudoku for younger players at The Taylor House. This puzzle uses pictures instead of numbers.
- Or try a Thanksgiving letter sudoku that uses letters from the word “turkey.” It’s free to download from Teachers Pay Teachers.
- If you’d rather do a number puzzle, Teachers Pay Teachers has a number Sudoku as part of a free downloadable Thanksgiving-themed math pack.
18. Thanksgiving Mad Libs
Remember playing Mad Libs as a kid? If you haven’t yet introduced the kids in your own family to this hilarious game, now’s the time.
A Mad Lib is a story sheet with several blanks for filling in words. One person takes charge of “writing” the story by asking the other players, who can’t see the story, to give them general types of words — like a noun, verb, or adjective — to fill in blank spaces in the story sheet. Once the blanks are filled in, the writer reads the story aloud — silly out-of-context words and all.
19. Thanksgiving Parade Bingo
If watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is an annual tradition in your family, take it up a notch from passive watching to a family game with Thanksgiving parade bingo.
Make your own by printing a blank bingo board and having each player fill in the squares before the parade with things they think they’ll see, like a marching band, the Rockettes, or Santa Claus. Or have them fill up the squares with any number of character balloons they might see or who might be performing a song. If you’d rather not DIY, print a colorful free game from Family Education.
20. Paper Football
If football’s more your family’s speed, level up on the annual tradition of simply watching the game with a rousing game of paper football. You can opt for the old-school kind you flicked around in elementary school. But you’ll have more fun following the instructions at Red Tricycle to make a football, goal posts, and even customize your own game rules.
First, fold a triangle-shaped football out of brown construction paper. Then, connect plastic straws with modeling clay to make goal posts. Play the game by flicking the football into the opposite goal post or make the game even more fun with custom rules, like allowing two-point conversions.
21. Thanksgiving Charades or Guess-the-Drawing Games
Get the whole family together for a game of charades or guess-the-drawing, which is sure to invoke lots of laughter and silliness. Make it Thanksgiving-themed by using holiday-related words, phrases, and people — for example, football, the Mayflower, baking a pie, breaking the wishbone, and marching in a parade.
Write your chosen words and phrases on strips of paper, fold them, and toss them into a bowl. Or paint and decorate a clear glass Mason jar to look like a turkey, and then decorate popsicle sticks to look like feathers. Write each of your Thanksgiving words and phrases on a craft stick and put them in the jar. Then, instead of players drawing slips of paper, they’ll draw turkey feathers.
Find the full instructions on I Dig Pinterest.
Then divide everyone into two teams. For charades, one player from the first team attempts to act out the word or phrase they selected without verbal cues, while the rest of their teammates guess what it is.
Guess-the-drawing works much like charades, but players draw pictures instead of acting out words and phrases. Grab a dry-erase board or a kids art easel or use regular paper and a book or clipboard for a sturdy surface to draw on.
Be sure to set a time limit, usually two to three minutes, and use a timer to keep track. If the team guesses right, they score a point. Play then moves to the other team. Keep alternating turns until you’ve exhausted your strips of paper.
22. Turkey Bowling
For this activity, gather some brown plastic party cups, which you can also use to serve drinks. Decorate them to look like turkeys by gluing on googly eyes and a triangle cut from orange construction paper for a beak. Then glue craft feathers or feathers cut from multicolored construction paper to the opposite sides of the cups.
Stack the cups on top of each other to form a pyramid and let the kids try to knock them down by tossing mini-pumpkins — underhand — at the cups. Or use some other type of “ball” you already have on hand, like pinecones or gourds.
23. Pumpkin Tic-Tac-Toe
Make a tic-tac-toe board on a spare surface or hard floor using fall-themed washi tape, which won’t damage your surfaces. Then ask kids to gather things from nature to serve as physical X’s and O’s. For example, paint flat, smooth rocks with the letters or use red leaves as one and orange leaves as the other.
24. Thanksgiving Escape Room
Treat older kids, teenagers, and adults to a Thanksgiving-themed escape room. People love escape rooms because it’s a lot of fun racing against the clock to escape the “danger” by solving puzzles and responding to clues.
Even better, this kind of game doesn’t pit family members against each other. Instead, everyone has to work together to solve the mystery. And there’s no need to dream up the puzzles yourself. There are inexpensive escape room plans available online.
Pay a small fee to instantly download the instructions at Teachers Pay Teachers.
25. Board & Card Games
Ask guests to bring their favorite board games, dice games, or decks of cards, or set out some of your own. Make sure to have games of various skill levels and age-appropriateness so everyone can find something to play. Some examples of enjoyable games for all ages, or ones that come in junior versions for younger players, are Farkle, Yahtzee, Uno, Boggle, Apples to Apples, and Sushi Go. Set out a folding table or two with stacks of games so guests can play at their leisure.
To spice things up, host a game tournament. Set up multiple stations with the same chosen game, such as Uno, Farkle, or poker. If you choose to go with poker, be sure to specify which type, such as Texas hold ‘em, seven-card stud, or five-card draw. Then have family members play in groups of four at each station. The winners then play each other. Game stations keep condensing until the last four players are left standing. They play each other, and the person who wins that round becomes tournament champion.
Whatever else you do, plan to spend some time outside. You’ll get to enjoy one of the last few days before the cold of winter keeps everyone stuck indoors, and it will help burn off some of that turkey dinner.
26. Thanksgiving-Themed Scavenger Hunt
Assemble family members into teams and send them off on an exciting scavenger hunt in the backyard or through the neighborhood. Invent your own by having players look for fall-themed items like yellow leaves, pinecones, and acorns. If you want to list things it isn’t practical to carry home — like corn stalks, scarecrows, or orange-colored lights — make sure everyone has a camera to take pictures.
There are plenty of themed scavenger hunt lists available online if you don’t want to make your own. Find free printables on It’s a Mom’s World or Let’s Get together. Or find toddler- and preschooler-friendly scavenger hunt ideas on PBS Kids or From Chalkboards to Strollers.
27. Flag Football
If football is a family Thanksgiving tradition, don’t stay cooped up inside in front of the TV watching other people play it. Take the family outdoors for a game of flag football. You play it much like tackle football, except instead of tackling other players, teammates snatch flags from them.
In standard play, teams are made up of five to eight players, each wearing flag belts, who attempt to score points by advancing the football down the field to the opposing goal without getting their flag snatched. If a football-carrying player gets their flag taken, the team gets three more tries to advance the ball 10 yards before it passes to the other team.
While most backyards aren’t the size of football fields, it’s possible to adapt the game for family play. Put any number of players on each team as long as they’re roughly coequal, tuck “flags” of kitchen towels or handkerchiefs into waistbands, play in the largest clear area available, and use anything you have at home for goal posts.
Find full rules of play on Kids Sports Activities.
28. Turkey Trot
Get some exercise before you eat Thanksgiving dinner by participating in a turkey trot. These walk-or-run events are typically 5K in length and family-friendly. Although most events take place early in the morning, some areas offer afternoon runs as well.
Find local races on Active.
29. Turkey Waddle Race
Kids and adults alike love participating in this silly race, which requires each player to hold an inflatable turkey or balloon between their legs. Players must make their way from the beginning to the end of the designated racecourse without touching the balloon with their hands or letting it fall.
Find the full instructions on Party Game Ideas.
30. Turkey Tag
For this game, gather clothespins in various colors — enough so each player has three in a single, unique color. Either paint clothespins in different colors or buy painted multicolored clothespins. Then, decorate the clothespins to look like turkeys by attaching mini googly eyes and gluing on tiny triangles cut from orange construction paper to look like beaks.
Find the full instructions on Let’s Get Together.
To play, each player attaches their three clothespins to their clothing. Players then spread out into various starting positions. Once the game begins, players attempt to snatch clothespins from each other. As soon as a player has lost all their clothespins, they’re out. The last player with clothespins attached to their clothes wins.
There’s no better way to achieve family bonding than to get straight to social activities. These encourage family members to talk with each other or engage with the larger world.
31. Conversation Starters
Although it feels natural to some family members to sit around the table and chat, others — especially kids — need additional help to create meaningful conversation. That’s where conversation starters come in.
Make a set of conversation cards with Thanksgiving-themed questions like:
- What event or experience are you most thankful for?
- Who has had the biggest influence on your life this year, and why?
- Who has done the nicest thing for you this year?
- What was the nicest thing you did for someone else this year?
- What is your favorite part of Thanksgiving Day?
- If you could share Thanksgiving dinner with one person in history, who would it be, and why?
Print your questions on cardstock in a size and shape suitable for cutting into small cards, such as business card-size. Or for a cute conversation card that doubles as a table decoration, print them on fall-colored paper and cut them out in leaf shapes to scatter around the table.
32. Guess Who Is Thankful
Another great way to get a conversation started is to have everyone guess who wrote anonymous gratitude statements.
Set up a station with markers and strips of paper. Have everyone write down something they’re thankful for, then fold it up and put it in a basket or other festive container. Once you’re all gathered for the main feast, have everyone pull out a strip. Each person reads aloud the one they grabbed and tries to guess who wrote it.
33. Volunteer Together
Volunteer projects help remind the whole family about gratitude — the true purpose of Thanksgiving. It’s so easy to get caught up in the consumerism of the season, especially with Black Friday arriving the next day. The shopping frenzy focuses our minds on what we want instead of what we already have. But according to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (GGSC), gratitude is far more likely to lead to lasting happiness than materialism is.
Participating in volunteer projects teaches kids to be grateful for what they have when so many others are forced to go without. It’s also an opportunity to do some genuine good for others — another key to lasting happiness, according to the GGSC.
There are many ways to volunteer as a family this Thanksgiving. Some options include:
- Give to the Homeless. Provide a meal for those in need at your local Salvation Army or through the National Coalition for the Homeless.
- Help a Family in Need. Ask all your guests to bring canned goods and other shelf-stable foods to donate to a food pantry. After dinner, take a family field trip to drop them off. Or donate coats or toys for those in need.
- Thank a Soldier. Send a care package through Operation Gratitude or a letter through A Million Thanks to a member of the military who’s unable to be home with their family this holiday season.
- Clean Up the Community. Join an #OptOutside cleanup event to help pick up trash in a designated area.
- Help a Neighbor. Use the time after your family meal to help an elderly neighbor with a special project, such as raking leaves or setting up holiday decorations.
- Brighten Someone’s Day. Make handmade greeting cards for a nursing home.
Search Volunteer Match for a Thanksgiving Day volunteer opportunity for your family.
I’ve found over the years that family get-togethers go more smoothly when there are activities for everyone to enjoy. Otherwise, adults and teenagers go off and do their own things, while kids get anxious and bored, and everyone loses out on time to connect as a family. So it pays dividends to have a few activities at the ready.
That doesn’t have to mean going to great lengths to come up with complicated activities or stock expensive supplies. Keeping a few basic things on hand — like construction paper and glue sticks or board and card games for all ages — gives you a wide variety of options to keep the whole family entertained and enjoy each other’s company.
And who knows? With only a pair of scissors and a piece of paper, you might just start a whole new family tradition.
What activities are you planning for Thanksgiving? Are there any annual traditions your family has?