Celebrating Thanksgiving the Montessori Way

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In a culture where adults are sometimes divided by our opinions at the holiday table, it is important to consider how children might interpret these opinions and respond to explicit or implicit differences of opinions and tensions. Thanksgiving gives us all a chance to work on grace and courtesy in times when politics and opinions may become hostile.

Founder of Montessori education, Maria Montessori, put an emphasis on practicing gratitude and thankfulness. She considered these to be key concepts in grace and courtesy in Montessori education.

Grace and Courtesy

Practicing grace and courtesy at the dinner table can include getting children involved in preparing the table, creating a centerpiece, or helping with a portion of the meal.

The Living Montessori Now blog has a number of tips for Grace and Courtesy Games at Home or School. This resource also provides helpful tips for basic table manners before any holiday meal: How to Teach Your Child Table Manners for Holiday Gatherings.

Inclusion, History and Learning

In addition to manners and participation, it is important for children to understand the historical interpretations of holidays like Thanksgiving. In fact, Thanksgiving often overlooks some key historical events. Today's celebration of Thanksgiving often romanticizes and misrepresents our history. While the notion of a people stepping forward and helping others in need is something to cherish and reflect in our own celebrations, the historical meal has romanticized a complex and violent past where the denigration and violence against an entire people was legitimized and legalized.  To bravely face our shared history allows for increased space in our hearts and community to create a community of understanding, respect, and diversity - all of which are explicit aspirations of our Mountain Pathway's Vision. 

A Mountain Pathways community parent, Rachel McKinney, has a personal interest in understanding this rich, complex, and emotionally challenging history - her family has direct links to two of the tribes recognized by North Carolina.  Recently, in preparation for an Indigenous Day celebration, she came across a recent survey of school-aged kids in the US which indicates more than 50 percent of children actually think Native Americans became "extinct" generations ago. Watauga County and the greater High Country have an incredibly interesting and important place in both the American Revolution/American Independence and the removal and genocide of the country's first inhabitants-first through the procurement of the land from Native Americans and eventually the infamous Trail of Tears. Want to know more?  Check out this, this and this webpage.

This concerns McKinney and others because an understanding of what we have come from and are heading to can impact the way we function as a community in the future. History is not dead - in many ways, the actions of those who came before us are still playing out from the halls of the highest government offices to the polling places on reservations.  We have opportunities every day to embrace the "others", to build relationships with those different than ourselves, and to challenge ourselves to not only be gracious and courteous in our manners and speech but in our actions. 

November is Native American month. 

Music is universal.  Celebrate by learning more about their music - you can find anything from traditional drumming and flutes to protest folk songs to rap and everything in between.  Much of the more traditional music using more traditional instruments is great music to put on during dinner or meditation or even to sooth little ones to sleep.  Did you know there is a Cherokee language rendition of Amazing Grace?  The history is linked to the Trail of Tears and would be a great place to start a conversation with pre-teens. There are a number of wonderful music collections on Smithsonian's Folkways website Smithsonian Folkways  that explore everything from older recordings of traditional music to protest songs of the 60's and 70's and more current music from children's choirs, etc. 

Books are a great way to both learn about an issue/people as well as just have different people represented in your homes.  Scan your books- how many of the characters are Native American? Order a few books to add to your bedtime rituals - the ones Kirby and I are currently reading are:

Appropriate for 0-3+

  • Ten Little Rabbits by Virginia Grossman and Sylvia Long ( a board book but so cute you'll want to keep it around)

  • We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp and Julie Fleet (in English and Cree)

  • My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith and Julie Fleet (in English and Cree)

Appropriate for 3-9

  • Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child

  • The People Shall Continue by Simon Ortiz

  • Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie

There are new comic books with Native American heroes you may want to check out.  Jump on the American Indians in Children's Literature blog for a list of best books by year or www.nativerealities.com and find the comic book section.  


Acknowledging continued existence of a people, appreciating historic and current arts and literature, and delving into current topics highlighted through arts and literature are wonderful ways to explore at the right level and pace for your child.  For older kids and ourselves, I think it is important to ask ourselves what do we need to understand and know?  From our place of privilege, what can and should we do with that understanding and knowledge?  Some of us may tackle things more head on while others may spend time holding issues to our hearts before determining how to move forward. 

Approaching Thanksgiving with appreciation and gratitude for the people in our lives and the resources we have can be made richer and deeper with a continued exploration of our history, an acknowledgement of how that history continues to manifest itself in today's world, and reflections on the roles each of us plays in breathing life into our shared MPS Vision.