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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving from my perspective.

Sometimes I forget that I am a first grade teacher, and first grade is when you are supposed to learn a lot of things, or at least build the foundation to learn a lot of things. Now, I'm not talking about reading, writing, and math. That I know I am supposed to teach and my students are supposed to learn.

I'm talking about things like Thanksgiving.

In first grade, they may not already know that Thanksgiving is traditionally taught as, "The Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower, had a tough winter, befriended the Wampanoag Native American Indians (or whatever combination of words is politically correct at the moment) and were saved when the Wampanoag taught them to farm and helped them hunt, and shared a huge feast with them."

I can't make myself teach it like that. We did no crafts. I never brought up the word "turkey." I never talked about the wonderful meal shared between the two groups.

I showed some of the audio/video clips on scholastic.com about the long trip on the Mayflower. The highlights of that discussion included:
- They were on the ship for nearly three months! Can you imagine being in one room for 3 months?
- They had to stay below deck. That's like being in a basement for 3 months. (None of them know what a basement is. I forgot that basements are mostly protection from tornadoes and the Southwest has no tornadoes.)
- They had no toilets. They had to use chamber pots. That means they went to the bathroom in a bowl, and then had to go dump it in the ocean. (This was my favorite part. Because chamber pots are funny to both 6 year olds, and apparently 23 year olds.)
- There was a storm and they kind of got lost a little.

We talked about the clothing worn by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. Highlights included:
- Pilgrim boys wore dresses until they were 7. Boys, you'd all still be wearing dresses.
- Pilgrims had no belts. They had to tie their pants to their shirt so they wouldn't fall down.
- The Pilgrim girls and boys had to wear very many layers of clothing.
- The pictures of the Wampanoag show them wearing very little. The kids found that hilarious. I pointed out that they had all their "private parts covered" and that it was just like they were wearing a bathing suit. Still, the children were quite scandalized.

We talked about the different types of dwellings the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag lived in and the different types of schooling the two groups had. Those discussions were mostly uneventful.

We also talked about how the Pilgrims came to what we now call The United States of America from very far away (further away than California, Mexico, and even Puerto Rico) because they were hoping to live a better life. They wanted to live somewhere they would feel safer or maybe have a little more food to eat.

Then we talked about how most of the students knew someone who had come to the United States from another country for the same or similar reasons. Much like the Pilgrims, they came to the United States because they were looking for somewhere that they could feel safer, or maybe have a little bit more money, or maybe have enough food to eat.

I hope that by going at Thanksgiving from the direction I did (compare and contrast of the Pilgrim and the Wampanoag cultures, and a comparison of the Pilgrims coming to the US to the students' families coming to the US) I am not depriving them of learning about the traditional conception of Thanksgiving. However, while they may not have been presented "Thanksgiving" in the form of hand-print turkeys and smiling Pilgrim and Wampanoag friendships, I think they were able to make connections between some of the things experienced by the Pilgrims (coming to a new country where everything is new and different, and maybe not quite as good as they had imagined it would be) and their own lives and experiences.


Anonymous Amy said...

I LOVE this approach. So much teaching time is lost around holidays when students are taught the same thing each year and do similar crafts. You presented them with a lesson that shows them a different side of the same story. Wonderful!

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this idea. Especially making the connections between the "old" Pilgrims coming to the US and the more modern ones.

You are touching these children's lives and planting important seeds in their fertile brains.

1:17 PM  
Blogger East Coast Teacher said...

Wonderful job!

9:45 AM  
Blogger miss bioteacher said...

left you a huge comment on my blog.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Rebecca Bell, Ph.D. said...

Well done. The Thanksgiving story is hard for me too..Oh how I love the little ones in their feathered hats and pilgram costumes! But then in the back of my mind, I think, "Eat up! Share this meal! Because later, we Pilgrams are going to steal your land and nearly wipe out your entire race, except for the ones we force to relocate to undesirable land!"

I have the same problem on "Columbus Day." One district I worked in changed it to "Indigenous Peoples Day" because they were here first. I loved that. But I'm a Left Coast kind of gal, some were not so happy with that.

I also like how you related it to their lives so they could make connections.

10:59 AM  

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