How to Keep the Kids Busy over the Thanksgiving Break

Beyond the traditional Thanksgiving feast, there’s always the matter of what to do with the family—especially kids—during the long holiday weekend.

Fortunately, we have some ideas to help you make the most of the holiday by engaging in activities that the whole family can enjoy.

Cook Up a Storm

Involve your children in food preparation during the weekend. Obviously, age and ability will play a role in how much cooking they can do. But kids of all ages can help set the table.

Learning Liftoff offers easy recipes, especially those that kids can help make.

Remember, it’s a long weekend and we’ve all got to eat!

Check Out a Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, famous for its over-sized helium-filled balloons of cartoon icons, has been a fixture in New York since 1924 and has been televised since 1948. Watching it on television has become a kind of family ritual for many—a nice way to pass the early hours of the holiday while the turkey roasts in the oven.

According to, 10,000 people participate in the parade, 3.5 million view it live, and 50 million more watch it on TV.

Take viewing a step further. Engage children during the telecast to see who can find the first float, first live animal, first balloon, or first trumpeter to come across the screen. Parents might even turn the telecast into a bingo game to be played by multiple family viewers.

Better yet, check  your local events calendar to see if a parade might be held in your community during the holiday weekend. notes that Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Houston, Philadelphia, and Detroit are other locations with major Thanksgiving Day parades.

Get Crafty

Thanksgiving arts and crafts projects are limited only by your imagination.

Learning Liftoff has plenty of ideas, ranging from coloring activities to three-dimensional turkeys that will be the talk of your dinner table. Best of all, most of these craft projects can be made with materials most families are likely to already have around the home.

Make a “thankful” tree, turn autumn leaves into stained glass, or bead your own napkin rings.

Go Out of Your Gourd

Pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween. In most areas, they’re still plentiful around Thanksgiving (maybe even a bit less expensive).

Some things you can do with pumpkins:

Sports and Exercise

It’s easy to work up an appetite if you engage in some physical activity early in the day. Your family might want to simply take a brisk autumn walk or go for a jog.

“Turkey Trots” are foot races that are common to many communities this time of year. Some are highly competitive, but others offer divisions for all ages and abilities. Some also serve as fundraisers for charitable causes—a nice way to give back during the holiday. Walkers and non-participants might want to have a camera ready.

Football and Thanksgiving go hand-in-hand. Across the U.S., many high school rivalries take place on Thanksgiving. It’s also a big day for pro football. All those games on TV can encourage couch potatoes, so if football is your game, be sure to get out and toss the pigskin around the backyard.

Play a Game

Games don’t necessarily have to be Thanksgiving-themed. But they can be.

  • Do a word search. How many words can your child make by using only the letters in the words “Thanksgiving,” “Turkey” or “Mayflower?”
  • Play Pin the Tail on the Turkey. Kids can have fun making their own turkey tail by tracing the outline of their hand on construction paper, coloring it, then cutting it out.
  • Thanksgiving Mad-Libs: Create your own or go online ( offers two examples) and print out fill-in-the-blank pages to create your own Thanksgiving Day story.

Stay in Touch

Not every relative will be at every family celebration. The Thanksgiving break is a great time to reach out to those who might live far away or those relatives you haven’t spoken to in a long time.

Skype, Google Hangouts, and similar computer programs have changed the game in terms of keeping in contact. Not everyone will have computer capabilities to video chat, but dialing up the phone is still an excellent method to renew acquaintances.

A great activity for kids is having them write a letter to grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. Utilizing the postal mail is a long-lost art for some, but it never truly goes out of style. A letter to Santa also works.

Thanksgiving is also a great time to take advantage of being with relatives by creating a family tree or recording family stories.

Give Thanks

There are innumerable ways to give thanks. It might be as simple as a pre-meal prayer or the chance for each family member at the table to name something for which they are thankful. Consider discussing this in advance as a thought-provoking family activity.

Consider a craft project that encourages kids to express their gratitude, such as these ideas from Learning Liftoff that you can use to adorn your Thanksgiving table.


Every community has needs for volunteers. Older kids might find it rewarding and enlightening to offer an hour or two at a community soup kitchen, many of which offer special programs to provide the needy with holiday meals.

Consider making an impact on days other than Thanksgiving itself, perhaps by donating or collecting food or sorting it for distribution.

Go Shopping

The Friday after Thanksgiving has evolved into its own “holiday” known as Black Friday.

Some stores offer deep discounts on selected items and some open their doors extra early to entice bargain hunters with limited or time-sensitive offers. But whether or not you’re looking for a deal, Thanksgiving weekend provides a chance to get a jump on your December holiday shopping. Just be prepared for large crowds and lots of fellow shoppers with children.

While dragging the kids through the mall might not be everyone’s idea of quality time, it is a chance to discover what products really interest your child.

The mall isn’t the only place to shop. There are likely to be multiple craft shows, farmers’ markets, and yard sales being held in your vicinity during the Thanksgiving break. Check the events calendar in your area and say “thanks” to local vendors.

This post originally published in 2015 and has been revised and republished.

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