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The Three Sisters: Fun Learning Activities for Thanksgiving

Fran Wisniewski, a homeschool mom of three children and contributing writer to, created a “Thanksgiving Curriculum” for young children based on the Native American custom of growing corn, beans, and pumpkins together.

“The first sister is corn, she grows tall and strong and helps the second sister, bean, by allowing her vines to climb up her stalk. In return, bean gives corn the nutrients she needs to grow. Pumpkin or squash is the third sister and she grows low to the ground throughout the corn field. Her large leaves help to keep the weeds under control and the soil moist.”

Here are some of the activities adapted from the curriculum:


You’ll need: Corn on the cob (fresh, uncooked with husks removed), non-toxic paint, paintbrushes and white construction paper.

Directions: Ask your child to paint the corn kernels any way they want to and then roll the corncob over a piece of paper. When your child is satisfied with what he/she has done, put the paper aside to dry. When the paint dries, cover the artwork with contact paper to make a place mat for Thanksgiving dinner. Make enough for all of your guests. You can use more than one ear of corn or use one ear and wash it between paper and paint changes. This is a fun and messy craft so cover the workspace and let your child wear a smock to protect clothing from paint. Note: Once used, the ear of corn is not edible.

Dry beans were an important part of the Native American diet and they come in many different varieties. Here are some bean activities that help build math skills. You will need a 20 oz. bag of dried, 15-bean soup mix, available at your local supermarket.

  • Sort The Beans – Make 15 piles (one for each type of bean) and have your child sort the rest of the beans in the soup mix. Talk about and compare the piles of beans. Point out the difference in size, color, and shape. Tell your child the name of each kind of bean.
  • Count the Beans – Count the beans in each pile. How many of each kind of bean are there? Depending on the age and ability of your child, show them how to skip-count by 2’s, 5’s, etc.

The third sister is pumpkin or squash. The plant’s large leaves help to keep the soil moist, and the weeds from growing out of control. The vines are prickly and help to keep out unwanted animals; this helped both crops of corn and beans to be more plentiful. Your preschooler will enjoy making paper bag pumpkins! Here’s how:

  • Stuff brown paper bags with newspaper so that they have a round shape. Twist the top closed and secure it with strong tape. Paint the round part of the bag orange and the twisted top green – so it resembles a pumpkin. Let dry. Make several of varying sizes to create your own paper pumpkin patch. Use markers to make faces on them!

Want more? Read Fran’s article, The Three Sisters: A Native American Curriculum for Thanksgiving.


Don’t forget that cranberries were an important part of some Native American diets as well. Here are some fun cranberry learning activities you can do with little ones. You’ll need a bag of fresh cranberries.

  • Cranberry Float – Do cranberries float? Get a pan of water and drop in some fresh cranberries. Fresh, ripe cranberries have small pockets of air inside that enables them to float. Rotten berries will generally not float. Invite your kids to float all of the cranberries in the bag and sort the fresh, floating cranberries from the rotten, sunken ones.
  • Bounce The Cranberry – Because fresh cranberries have pockets of air inside of them – they bounce! Let your kids try bouncing some cranberries. Keep the fresh ones, and discard the rotten ones that don’t bounce.
  • Cranberry Dissection – Cut a cranberry in half and show it to your child. Inside the berry, you will see what looks like 4 little pockets in a cross pattern. That’s where air becomes trapped inside the fresh berry allowing it to float and bounce. Notice the tiny seeds inside as well.

You’ll find more learning ideas in our article titled, Cranberry Fun!

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