Language Play: Add Structure and Language to Your Thanksgiving Menu

Add Structure and Language to Your Thanksgiving Menu

Board games help to bring structure and can be a great intergenerational activity during your Thanksgiving celebration. Have a favorite ready to share together, allowing children to practice language skills and concepts.

Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday.  It is not about any one religious belief; you don’t have to buy presents; it is optional if you cook or bring food; people offer hospitality to others who have nowhere else to go; and, of course, parades, food, and football!

Children may be fine with herds of people, meals at different times of the day, free play with friends and relatives, with their parents’ attention on others and away from them; but many can become stressed with so many changes in their routine all at once. If you have a child like this, make sure you plan more than the meal… Take some time to make the day great for everyone by coming up with lots of options. A meltdown isn’t pleasant for hosts and their guests, or for a youngster in distress. You will need to consider what quiet spaces are available, along with quieter activities. Assigning tasks to everyone, including children, adds a touch of structure. Tasks provide teaching moments for parents, so allow time for explaining the steps involved (modeling executive function). Teach new vocabulary while you explain how to do something, or tell an anecdote (modeling narrative language) about tasks you did as a child. Make your time together precious and memorable.

Some activities you can plan ahead:

  • Ask an adult or older child to read a book to the kids or organize a Thanksgiving play based on the story.
  • Have board games available.
  • Have the kids practice scripts to express what they are thankful for so they can share their feelings with everyone at the table.
  • Find some fun Thanksgiving apps that encourage good turn-taking skills (see below).
  • Have lyrics to Thanksgiving Songs available so people can sing together, like Over the River and Through the Wood.
  • Think of a way the kids can help with minor food tasks and setting tables.
  • If it’s warm enough, take a walk around the neighborhood and ask the host child to tell about living there and about people in the neighborhood.

Family traditions are always good to share. When I was young, all the kids hid under the big dining room table while the adults setting the table talked about the kids that had disappeared and wondered aloud where we were. We couldn’t help giggling aloud but for some reason the adults never noticed! When I was an adult in grad school in Arizona, I was invited to a colleague’s house for Thanksgiving. After dinner, we played board games till midnight, then came back the next day for lunch to help eliminate some leftovers! A stroke of genius for a family tradition, I thought!

What are your family’s traditions? Be sure to share them with your children. And if I don’t see you before tomorrow, have a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!

Other Resources:

Apps for Thanksgiving:


Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at

[Photo credit: (cc) Guido Strotheide]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: