How Pete the Cat Saved My Pilgrim Unit
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
There are times, when as a teacher, you get really excited about something that non-teachers would think are crazy. I had one of those moments recently and it revolved around the new book, Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving. The first time I picked it up and read it I was inspired.
I love teaching fall-inspired subjects like pumpkins, apples, and nocturnal animals. However, in years past I have struggled with finding my direction for Thanksgiving. I’ve approached it as a "then and now" unit and I’ve taught it as a turkey unit. The problem was that I didn’t have any text that hooked my kids into the story of the Pilgrims. I am not saying that great literature doesn’t exist, I’m saying that I hadn’t found the right text to bring it alive in my classroom. We would watch videos and do other activities, but I couldn’t find the right text for me to bring it all together. However, I won’t have that problem ever again thanks to Pete the Cat.
The genius of using this book is that it features a character I introduce early in the year. My students love Pete and getting to revisit him at Thanksgiving is the hook. The other beautiful part of this book is that the text is simple enough for them to understand what happened.
To start off our week we read Give Thanks Every Day by Steve Metzger. This gives us a foundation as we talk about being thankful, not only as it relates to Pilgrims, but for the month of November.
We then read Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by Kimberly Den and James Dean
Activities that help us cement the lessons of the Pilgrims are:
Make a paper plate Pilgrim. We are making a Pilgrim boy this week and a Pilgrim girl next week.
On the back of our paper plate Pilgrim boy, the students copy a list of things that Pilgrim boys did. They will write a similar list next week about the chores done by Pilgrim girls.
Their poem for the week is two stanzas of "If I Were a Pilgrim Child" by Rowena Bennett. They glue a copy of the poem into their poetry journals and illustrate it.
My class loves learning about the Mayflower. From what I’ve read, the Mayflower was between 90-100 feet long and carried 102 passengers. I tape off an area between nine and ten feet and then put ten students in the taped-off area. While they are standing they tend to believe that they have plenty of room but when I tell them that it’s nighttime and they need to rest, they soon realize how cramped the Mayflower would have been. We also talk about how all the Pilgrims didn't make it to Plymouth Rock, (which is what inspired Landon's "death" in the above right picture). The other great thing about this activity is you can relate how long they were on the Mayflower to about how many days they have been in school. Though it’s not exact, it typically falls pretty close in my school district.
The class divides itself in groups of three or four and then plans how to build a Mayflower out of Legos. They work as a group to create one Mayflower. After a set amount of time, everyone in the group shares with the class their part of the Lego Mayflower their group created.
We complete a lift-the-flap sheet where each child draws their favorite food on the main picture and then glues the flap on top of their drawing. This relates directly back to the Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving book as it’s a lift-the-flap book. This activity relates to the food at the first Thanksgiving and the food that we eat at Thanksgiving today.
Throughout all these activities, the terms “then” and “now” pop up. This is a hard concept for younger students to understand because their “then” was earlier in the day when they opened their bookbag and found the best snack ever! (This week that honor goes to Brady who discovered a Twizzler from Halloween.) This activity is a family activity that I send home where the student draws their favorite toy and then the parent draws their favorite toy from when they were a child. Then the family discusses the similarities and the differences between the toys.
Finally, we will make Dr. Jean's Thanksgiving bracelets with pipe cleaner and beads. This is a great way to visualize how to retell a story.
I can’t wait to see you next week.