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How Pete the Cat Saved My Pilgrim Unit

By Brian Smith on November 12, 2013
  • 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.

Give Thanks for Each Day

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. 


Pete the Cat The First Thanksgiving Cover

We then read Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by Kimberly Den and James Dean



Pilgrim Boy Follow the Directions ActivityStudents on the "Mayflower

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. 


Lego MayflowerLego Mayflower

  • 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.  

Thanksgiving Bracelet

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.

Comments (11)

I love the then and now toy idea!

Thank you! I came up with it years ago and I always get a 100% class participation on. The kids love it and because we do their part in class they can't wait to get home to show their parents. Then parents like it because it is that conversation starter that directly relates to our classroom and often gets the kids to talking about other things that go on at school. Thank you so much for reading.

Thank you. Can't wait to use your great ideas next week!

That is great! I hope you share how the activities went for you and which were your class' favorites. Thanks for reading!

Love all your activities! Your flap worksheet is adorable!

Thank you! I'm glad you like it and appreciate you reading!

Hi Brian, What great ideas. I like the pilgrim boy and girl paper plate activity...do you have directions for them both? I like getting Pete the cat into the activities...my students are loving Pete! How about the poem for a Pilgrim Child...do you have a copy of that? Thank you so much for sharing you great idea! Can't wait to do some of them next week! You have had some really fun and exciting activities and ideas for Kindergarten!

Thank you for reading!
I used two stanzas from Rowena Bennett's If I Were a Pilgrim Child
If I were a pilgrim child
Dressed in white and gray
I should catch a turkey wild
For Thanksgiving Day.
An Indian would be my guest
And wear a crimson feather
And we should clasp our hands and say
Thanksgiving grace together.

The whole poem can be found at the link from the post.

I will work on finding the website where we found the pilgrim boy and girl plates and get that posted soon!

THANKS again for reading!

Here is the website where you can find the Paper Plate Pilgrim Crafts altought I "kinderfied" the directions just a bit for my class.


Love it! Thanks so much for sharing. I love the retelling bracelets!

Hey Lindsey! I have several of my kids still wearing their bracelets and we did them over a week ago. Another teacher commented on them and I pulled over a couple of my kids and every one of them still remembered what every color stood for and got the story exactly right. The only thing that a few of them got confused on was the red bead stands for Cranberries and they keep saying Red Cherries! Next year I will bring in a can of cranberries and let them taste them so that they have the background knowledge they need about cranberries!

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