Aaron's Preschool: Cranberry Thanksgiving

Dec 5, 2012

I fully intended to write up this post the week of Thanksgiving because, as you can see, it's about a Thanksgiving book. But for whatever reason(s) (of which I'm not entirely sure myself), that didn't happen. So now, almost a full week into December, here it is.

It was my turn to teach Aaron's preschool on the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, so I decided to base the lesson on Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin. (I mentioned in an earlier post that we are using the Five in a Row curriculum for Aaron's preschool. The lesson plan for this story can be found in Five in a Row, Volume 1. Many of my ideas came from the Five in a Row manual itself as well as numerous websites that I will link you to.)

Cranberry Thanksgiving is about a young girl named Maggie who lives with her grandmother in New England at the edge of a cranberry bog. When the story begins, Grandmother and Maggie are excitedly getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner. They have each invited one guest. Maggie (much to her Grandmother's dismay) has invited her dear friend, Mr. Whiskers (a rather gruff and unkempt seaman). Grandmother has invited the dashing and elegant Mr. Horace, a newcomer who is visiting from out of town. As part of the festivities, Grandmother is making her famous cranberry bread, the recipe of which is secret and kept hidden behind a brick in the fireplace. When it is time to eat, Grandmother is stiffly polite to Mr. Whiskers and warmly gracious to Mr. Horace. After the meal, Grandmother and Maggie clean up when all of a sudden, Maggie gasps, "He's found it!" (the secret cranberry bread recipe). A wild chase ensues, and Grandmother learns that appearances can be deceiving but there is always room to forgive.

We began the morning by reading the book. All of the children liked it. In fact, it is one that Aaron and Max repeatedly ask me to read, and I have to keep steering them towards the huge pile of Christmas books instead. (I will say that the first time I read it--over a year ago--I wasn't totally enamored with it, but it has since grown on me.)

We then headed to the kitchen to make Grandmother's Famous Cranberry Bread. The kids were all delighted to find her secret recipe tucked away on the last page of the book. How convenient! They helped measure and pour and mix. We talked about how we add baking soda to the bread so that it will rise. None of them had ever seen fresh cranberries before. They thought they looked so delicious. They're red and round, so of course they expected a sweet, juicy flavor. The boys especially wanted to try them. I warned them that they wouldn't taste very yummy, but they insisted and made quite a face when they tasted the bitter inside.

While the bread was baking, we did a little science experiment so they could see what happens when the baking soda reacts with other ingredients and how it makes the bread rise. We made a baking soda bomb. We filled a Ziploc bag with 1/2 cup of vinegar and 1/4 cup of water. Then we folded 1 1/2 tablespoons of baking soda into a paper towel packet. We went outside, slid the packet into the bag and then zipped it shut as fast as possible. Then we set it on the ground (read: threw it while running away squealing) and watched it bubble and fill with air until it finally let out a pop and "exploded." They liked it so much we had to do it again, and I'm pretty sure we could have spent the rest of the morning just making baking soda packets and dropping them into vinegar.

It was at this point that I said, "I bet you guys are hungry. Let's go back inside for a little snack before the bread is ready to eat." In Cranberry Thanksgiving, there is a picture of Mr. Horace and Mr. Whiskers standing side by side. Mr. Horace looks "pink-cheeked and starched", and it says he smells of lavender. Mr. Whiskers, on the other hand, is not too clean with a wild beard and an old captain's hat, and he smells like clams and seaweed. They could not be more different, but Mr. Horace ends up being none too trustworthy while Mr. Whiskers proves to be a loyal and honorable friend. Grandmother was wrong to judge Mr. Whiskers by his appearance.

With that as background, we returned to the kitchen where I had placed two bags filled with snacks: a pretty gift bag with tissue paper and a regular, plastic grocery bag. I asked the children if they would like the snack in the gift bag or the one in the plastic bag. Immediately, they pointed to the gift bag. "Why do you want this one?" I asked. "It's so pretty! And it looks so nice!" they shouted. I don't think this would have worked with 6- or 7-year-olds. Maybe not even 5-year-olds. They would have suspected something was up. But these 4-year-olds could not have fallen into the trap any more perfectly. I made a big show out of taking away the tissue paper. Their eyes were literally aglow and their faces rapt with excited happiness at what the contents might be. I seriously wish I'd taken a video of their faces when I pulled out...a head of cauliflower! Their faces instantly fell from joyful anticipation to the bitterest expression of disappointment. It was so funny and by far my favorite moment of the morning. We then talked about the book and how Mr. Horace's appearance was deceiving, just like the gift bag. And then I pulled out chocolate chip cookies from the grocery bag, and they were happy again.

After that, we moved onto learning about cranberries. I showed them pictures of a cranberry bog and harvest (from here and here), and then we watched this How It's Made video. In the video, they got to see how the cranberries float on the water after the cranberry field is flooded at harvest time. We wanted to see for ourselves if cranberries really float. So I filled a bowl with water, dumped in a few cranberries, and they took turns looking and touching.

By that time, the bread was out of the oven, so I cut up a loaf, and we all tried it for a (second) snack. It was so delicious! When Mike got home that night, he tried a leftover slice and loved the combination of orange and cranberry. (You can find the recipe here. I replaced the nuts with raisins, or if you don't like either, you could just use more cranberries).

Since the book was about Thanksgiving, I wanted to talk a little bit about the history behind the holiday. So we played the game "Sail on the Mayflower." (I'm almost certain I downloaded it from here, but I didn't have to pay $1.50, so something must have changed in the last two weeks.) It was fun and taught them things about the Pilgrims' voyage, but I think they were getting a little bit tired by this point because they seemed to have a harder time focusing.

Finally, we talked about similes. The first line of the book reads, "Maggie darted about like a black-stockinged bird." We talked about how we can compare ourselves to animals or other things to describe a certain quality we might have. I went to each child and said, "Aaron [or Emmy or Reese or Laura] is as fast as a..." and then I let them fill in the blank. I wrote their descriptions on paper and then told them they could draw a picture of what they were as fast as. That was the idea anyway. Unfortunately, I think similes were a bit of an advanced concept for them, but they still appeased me a drew a picture.

It was a fun morning. I'm just sad about all of the things I had to leave out of the lesson because of time. It really is amazing how a simple story can be the beginning to so much learning. For more ideas on how to use this book, visit School Time Snippets, Blog, She Wrote, and Delightful Learning.

(If you like Cranberry Thanksgiving, you might also want to check out Cranberry Christmas and some of the other Cranberry books.)

I am linking this post to The Children's Bookshelf and the Kid Lit Blog Hop.


  1. Hey, it's always a good time for cranberries, even in December! I remember enjoying this book when I was a kid. I haven't read it to my boys yet. I should correct that oversight! Thanks for sharing at TCB, again!

    1. That's true! I actually haven't read Cranberry Christmas yet, but I hope to get it from the library this month!

  2. This is a great post! I love all the ideas you came up with. And tricking kids... that's always fun. ;o) I'm off to copy that recipe now.

    1. Oh, thanks! I wish I could take credit for the ideas, but let's just say I copy other people's ideas really well! :-) I hope you like the bread! We've already made it a second time.

  3. I love all the things you learn from one book! I want to come to preschool!

  4. I love all the activities. You go girl!

  5. What a well-thought-out lesson! I always felt like I learned better when the lesson was an experience like this. I can imagine all those little ones will remember that snack lesson from now on :) Congratulations on being such a great teacher, and thanks for joining the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

  6. Wow, I have a feeling our kids are getting a better education at your house than mine!


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