While Thanksgiving has a complicated history, many have come to use the day as an occasion to slow down and focus on family. With school and work closed, it’s an opportunity to press “pause” on life and think about all of the blessings in your life while eating delicious, lovingly prepared food and an unmatched desserts lineup. Or, maybe you ditch all that and order pizza! No matter what’s on the menu, it’s the quality time with loved ones that counts.  

And there are so many ways to enjoy time with your family during the Thanksgiving break. From the night-before games and day-of meal prep to crafting and showing gratitude, we’ve rounded up the best Thanksgiving activities for families. Make your Thanksgiving one to remember with these traditions you can start today and return to for years to come. 

Turn off your phones.

Easier said than done, but it’s such an important step to take in order to savor your day with loved ones. Everyone will benefit from a low-screen day, especially if you start on Thanksgiving Eve right before bed. No alarms, no social media, no problems! You can switch into airplane mode if you need your phone for taking photos on the holiday. Print out the recipes and turn off your laptop, too. A return to cookbooks and slow living will be a welcome change for one day. (See more tips on being present with your baby.)

Plan the Thanksgiving menu together.

Every parent who’s served a Thanksgiving dinner to picky kids can attest that much of the plates go to waste each year. One great way to get everyone to at least try what they’re served is to plan and shop together. The prep of some menu items—like the turkey and stuffing—might not be super friendly for little hands, but give the kids a choice of veggie sides or get their input on which shape of pasta to use for the mac ‘n cheese. Make your shopping list together and bring your tots to the store to pick them out. Little ones are much likelier to try foods that they had a hand in selecting. 

Do a Thanksgiving craft.

A Thanksgiving craft: A pumpkin made with beads and pipecleaners 

Photo: One Little Project

Use the down time to get creative and make something cute with the kids. Not only will these easy crafts be fun for the whole family to make together, but they’ll serve as little relics and reminders of their childhood, to be used as table decor in the years to come. Pipe cleaner pumpkins take only a few materials; sparkling gourds will be a hit with toddlers to teens, and turkey hats or confetti-stuffed turkeys are just plain adorable. 

Make Thanksgiving table settings.

These can be simple or elaborate, depending on the interest and age of your kiddos. Use found materials, like card stock, stickers, and markers to create a place setting label for everyone who will be at your dinner. Even if it’s just your own immediate family, this is a small way to elevate the meal and make it feel special.

Make thankful rocks.

Rocks painted with the words "Give Thanks"

Photo: Handmade Charlotte

Paint, permanent marker, and sequins or stickers can be used to make pretty rocks. Older children who can draw or write what they’re thankful for on the rocks will use this as a moment to pause and reflect in gratitude. Little ones can talk about the things that make them happy while applying their colorful paint to the rocks. Use them as table decor, plant them around your neighborhood to be found and enjoyed by others, or decorate your garden or porch with your “thankful rocks.”

Give everyone a job on Thanksgiving.

Even the littlest learners can get on board with meal prep and table-setting, and the house will be alive with love while you’re all prepping together. Tasks like separating and grouping ingredients for your toddlers, mixing (and licking!) a spoon, or full-on cooking for the older kids, will all create a collaborative effort that feels so much more fun than leaving the job to one or two adults. (Here are some more ideas for toddler-friendly chores!)

Dress up for the Thanksgiving meal.

Whether it’s a huge family affair or just a small gathering of the people who live in your home, a nice tradition is to use Thanksgiving as an excuse to get dressed up in nice outfits, snap a few special pictures, and sit down to table feeling spiffy. Most of the fam will likely change into sweats afterward, and that is okay! 

Assemble gratitude mason jars for Thanksgiving.

 Thanksgiving mason jars filled with fall candy

Photo: The 36th Avenue

Spread the love this Thanksgiving with DIY painted mason jars decorated in the colors of the season. Fill them with candies, pretzels, stickers, or other little surprises for friends and neighbors, and deliver them before or right after the meal to make someone else’s holiday extra sweet. 

Have a Thanksgiving bake-off.

If you’re inviting friends and family to join this year, consider a different type of potluck. You provide all the savory foods, and your guests bring different cookies, pies, cakes, and so on. Then have everyone in the family vote for their favorites. Even the littlest kids will love this activity—who ever turned down more sweets? 

Start new Thanksgiving table traditions.

There are so many ways you can make this meal meaningful, and the eating part is not the whole story. Go around the table and take turns having everyone say what they are grateful for this year. If you’ve got little ones gathered around the table, consider using a paper tablecloth or placemats and setting crayons at their chairs, or setting up paper and coloring supplies by their seat. A quiet activity will keep them seated for longer to enjoy the meal. 

Take a Thanksgiving family walk.

After dinner, throw on some jackets or hoodies and comfy shoes and hit the sidewalks. If you’re up for it, and there’s enough light, you can even drive over to a local trail or park to do so. Digesting a big meal on foot always feels good and getting in nature can bring us back to what’s important, while keeping everyone removed for a while longer from the pulls of work, screens, and other outside influences. 

Collect and decorate leaves.

 Thanksgiving family craft: Leaves decorated with faces

Photo: Handmade Charlotte

A fun activity to enjoy after your nature walk is to make something special out of the fallen leaves you find along the way. Whether you paint, bedazzle, cut, or glue these fall mementos, memory-making is the most important part of this craft.

Play some games.

Round out your day of rest and revelry with some fun games everyone can get in on. Try any combination of age-appropriate board games (like Candy Land for littles or Scrabble for bigs) and old-school party games (think: charades and telephone). Fall-themed favorites like bean bag toss, memory games, and bobbing for apples are also a great fit for a Thanksgiving activity with the family. And of course, throwing a football around (even if it’s a small, squishy toddler-friendly one) feels appropriate too!

Throw a Thanksgiving family movie night.

Unwind at day’s end with a cozy family movie. Bonus points if it’s Thanksgiving-themed…but lots of families move right into winter-holiday-mode right after Turkey Day, and if that’s true of your brood, consider a Christmas or Hanukkah movie to kick off the season. 

Light a Thanksgiving fire.

If you have a fire pit or fireplace, tonight’s the night to get it roaring. Keep small children at a safe distance from the smoke, but the grownups can break out sticks and marshmallows for a toasty treat that everyone will love. (If you can stand one more morsel of food, that is…)

Do some good.

Consider planning a give-back activity. Maybe it’s picking out goods to give to a local shelter or gathering old clothes to donate or helping a neighbor rake leaves. Even if your little one is too young to participate, they can benefit from growing up in a home that values acts of kindness. (Here are some of our favorite organizations to support!)

More Ways to Enjoy Together Time:

About Jenny Studenroth Gerson

Jenny Studenroth Gerson is an Atlanta-based lifestyle journalist and novelist (Let Me Let You Go, 2020). Her work can be seen in publications including HuffPost, Cosmo, and WSJ, among many others. Jenny has researched thousands of baby names, combed through hundreds of nursery designs, and curated dozens of baby shower guides, making her absolutely the mom—and writer—you want to talk to when planning for Baby. When not meeting deadlines, she is chasing toddlers or chugging coffee—or both! Find her on Instagram @ourlifeinrosegold for mom hacks and more.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.