10 Fun Things to Do with Kids this Thanksgiving


This Thanksgiving might look a bit different than last year’s. Whether you’ve opted to keep the numbers low and limit your Thanksgiving celebration to close friends or family and forgo the big bash that normally involves extended family or opt for a big bash (with masks), make it a Thanksgiving your kids will always remember.

Fun Ideas for Thanksgiving

Give these ideas a try before you dig into your mom’s famous marshmallow-topped yams — or after you’ve finished the last bite of pumpkin pie.

1. Go on a hike. 

Hike before or after your huge Thanksgiving dinner, either to work up an appetite or burn some calories after pecan pie.

Let your kids plan out the hike — look into options at a state park or even a national park near you. Taking in nature is a great way to give thanks for fresh air and winding trails! If it’s cold out, bundle up and go! Your kids will love running ahead on the trail, picking up pinecones, leaves and maybe even shells, if you opt to walk on the beach instead.

2. Let your kids plan the menu. 

At the risk of having hot dogs and mac and cheese on the menu, let your kids plan the full meal. Give them a few guidelines, then have them write down the recipes for each item. Save their squiggly handwriting and pull out their recipes year after year. It’ll be so precious to look back on later. 

3. Let your kids help you cook. 

Special stools can help your kids reach the counter as you cook. They’ll be thrilled to help roll out the pastry crust for the pumpkin pie or help you make the cranberry sauce. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures of the flour in everyone’s hair! Make sure you’ve got your patience cap on — cooking with kids can be a bit stressful!

Award prizes to your kids for the yummiest-tasting food. Make fancy ribbons for everyone.

4. Don’t forget the table decor!

You know the traditional handmade kiddie decor — handmade place cards and napkin rings. Why not take it a step further and give your kids total access to the entire table? Take them to a craft store like Hobby Lobby and give them a budget. It’s a great lesson in learning how to manage money (without going overboard!) At the same time, they’ll have a great time choosing decor for the table. Don’t put limits on their decorative tastes and see what they come up with. 

Sparkly turkeys and garish balloons? Why not?

5. Let your kids plan the kids’ activities.

What activities would your kids like to bring to the kids’ table? You may have a slimmer crew this year, but maybe one or two other kids will come. Let your kids plan the activity for before and after dinner. Maybe you can think of some at-table activities that would work as well. Get as creative as possible with ideas like these: 

  • Tablecloth decorating: Why not use a real tablecloth, fabric markers and see what the kids come up with? It’ll be so fun to look at later on down the road. You might even want to bring it out every Thanksgiving!
  • Thanksgiving egg hunt: Hide eggs filled with fall-colored M&Ms or other small candies all over the house, especially if you missed out on your traditional Easter egg hunt with the usual crew.
  • Tie-dye T-shirts: Sounds messy, right? Yes, but so fun! You’ll have a great time making a mess with your kids. Bring plenty of plastic bags and smocks (and maybe a change of clothes). Incorporate as many bright fall colors as you can into the final results.
  • Pin the feathers on the turkey: Have your kids make a turkey and a plume of beautiful tail feathers to play this classic game. Grab a turkey print dish towel from the kitchen and spin the kids in another room (far away from the real turkey). 
  • Play yard games and other outdoor activities: If it’s nice out, don’t stay in the house! Play football outside, start up a bags tournament and even consider having dinner outside if it’s unseasonably gorgeous and sunny. Take advantage of the weather! Your kids will say, “Remember that year when we cooked the turkey outside on the grill and it was 73 degrees? That was the best!” 

6. Run a turkey trot. 

Did you know that you traditionally consume 3,000 calories during your Thanksgiving dinner? Pre-dinner meals and delicious pecan pie can top that — and can even go up to 4,500 calories.

Turn to a turkey trot to burn off all that food (because you’d need to run a marathon to even start to burn off that much!) 

Turkey trots have become as famous as the pumpkin pie-stuffing-and-turkey combo on Thanksgiving itself. Find the best race near you so the whole family can earn that extra slice of pie.

7. Play the Gratitude BINGO game. 

Have your older kids make BINGO cards for everyone with the responses your kids think family members will say to “I’m thankful for _____ this year.” Go around the table and ask family members what they’re grateful for.

For example, maybe your son thinks your dad will say he’s thankful for his new red pickup truck or your mom will say she’s thankful for her sweet grandkids. Watch your kids’ excitement when family members actually do respond with what’s on the BINGO card. (Maybe clue your family members in advance so they know what the kids wrote on the cards.) 

Making BINGO cards invites families to get more elaborate than just responding with “I’m thankful for my family.” 

8. Dress up. 

What’s Thanksgiving without dressing up like a pilgrim? Go a little crazier this year, especially if you don’t have the opportunity to get together with family and friends and it’s just your immediate family. Have your kids think of some crazy costume ideas. Maybe one of your kids could be turkey feathers, another kid could be the turkey wattle! Have fun making wattle costumes (good luck with that!) or yam and marshmallow costumes! 

Prizes go to the most creative, the yummiest looking or the most colorful. 

9. Find a way to be with family.

Try as hard as you can to be with your closest friends and family on Thanksgiving. You never know when it could be your last time with the kids and their great-grandpa and great-grandmas together. Take advantage of the joy and love that happens when you get the whole family together.  

If you can’t be together with family, get together with friends and enjoy every minute you have together.

10. Zoom with those who can’t be there.

It goes without saying that you want everyone to join in on the fun, but if Great-Grandma Susan can’t attend because of COVID-19, include her via Zoom. Make sure she knows how to use the technology to be able to join your feast and even save her a spot at the table! Stick a tablet at her dinner plate location so she can see and hear everything that’s going on. She’ll remember that Thanksgiving and the kids will be grateful to hear her voice.

Do Thanksgiving New 

No matter who’s sitting around the table. Take advantage of this time and let your attitude be, “Why not? Let’s make 2020’s Thanksgiving the most fun ever!” 

It’s possible to make that happen, even if you don’t have the biggest group at your table.

By the way, don’t forget to remind your family members during Thanksgiving that since the holidays are coming up, it’s a great time for them to help contribute to your kids’ 529 plans. UNest’s easy-to-use gifting option (coming soon!) offers an effortless contribution option to your child’s 529 account. It can magically accelerate your child’s account amount!


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Ksenia Yudina, CFA, MBA

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Ksenia is the Founder and CEO of U-Nest, the first mobile app that makes it easy for families to save for college. As an entrepreneur and finance professional, Ksenia has focused on alleviating the impact of student debt on families across the economic spectrum. Previously, Ksenia was a Vice President atCapital Group/American Funds, the largest 529 provider in the U.S. In this role, she played a leadership role in helping parents plan and manage their finances, with a focus on the future well-being of their children. Prior to Capital Group/American Funds, she was founder of a residential real estate company. Ksenia earned her bachelor’s degree in finance from CaliforniaState University Northridge, and an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

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