Over the next few days, moms all over America will be preparing for Thanksgiving. You may be picturing wonderful family memories made around the Thanksgiving table, or even afterwards over turkey sandwiches, but don’t miss out on the opportunities for making special memories with your children in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

When my girls were younger, I had a very hard time including them in the Thanksgiving preparations. It wasn’t because I didn’t have the patience for them or because I was under any particular time crunch. It was because I was (and still am) such a perfectionist. Everything about the celebration had to be just “just so.” If it didn’t look like it came out of a magazine, then it wasn’t good enough.

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Looking back, I regret not taking advantage of the special moments I could have shared with my children. After all, they don’t remember the perfectly polished flatware and glistening crystal goblets. They do remember the things they helped with though.

If your vision of a perfect Thanksgiving doesn’t include a table to rival anything from the Martha Stewart Show, you’re already off to a good start. If the idea of toilet-paper tube Pilgrims on your table is enough to cause a panic attack, don’t worry. You can involve the children and STILL have the picture-perfect Thanksgiving.

Start at the beginning:

42-15610067Include your child in the planning the Thanksgiving menu. You’ll likely be listing the traditional foods you’ve had in the past, or you may wind up with some new favorites, requested by your child. Either way, this gets your child involved from the start. If your child is able to write, have him help write down the menu or even the grocery list (as you dictate it, of course). If your child can’t actually write yet, give her some paper and let her try anyway. You can even print out some cute Thanksgiving-themed paper here (http://www.dltk-holidays.com/fall/mfallpaper.html).

Table Decorations:

Do you have a special set of china and stemware used exclusively for holidays or special occasions? Are paper plates and buffet style more your speed? Either way, there are plenty of crafty ways your child can be involved in making the atmosphere festive, without breaking the bank or straying too far from your personal asthetic. For great ideas and inspiration, visit this site ( http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/thanksgivingartscraftsideaskids.html). There are tons of great craft ideas for centerpieces!

Get Cooking:

Little ChefsChildren of all ages can help in the kitchen. This doesn’t mean you need to have them under foot or in the kitchen to help prepare the entire meal. You may want to consider choosing a dish your child can help prepare, even if it is just “helping” by pouring in the ingredients or mixing. For older children, consider giving them responsibility for a side dish, such as mashed potatoes, green bean casserole or sweet potato casserole. If you are having a hard time adapting your favorite family recipe to be “kid friendly,” try this site for some ideas http://www.childrensrecipes.com/.

Away from Home This Thanksgiving?

If you are traveling this Thanksgiving, you can still include your child in preparing for the trip. If he is old enough, having him pack his own suitcase will save you some time and sanity (everything double-checked by mom, of course).

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For all ages, have your child help prepare the activities for the ride there by providing a back pack, small box, or other suitable container for the car, and allowing him to fill it with the items he would like to take in the car. You can go to the library and let your child pick out books, music and even books on CD for the long car ride ahead.

Make your older child the official coordinator of car-ride games. Have her research games that can be played in the car, and make sure you have all the supplies needed. Make it her job to teach everyone how to play during the ride. If you want to give your child a head start on finding games, you can start here: http://www.gameskidsplay.net/games/mental_games/car_games.htm.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, include your children in the preparations. By giving each of your children a specific responsibility, you will be building their self esteem, and they might even learn a new life skill and a bit of family history in the process. Whether you are hosting the feast at home or traveling to see loved ones, there is something your child can do to help.

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