Michael Hochman
kids on swing

Ah, the underappreciated Thanksgiving break from school. Not long enough to take the kids on vacation after visiting with family, too long to plop them in front of the television for 96 hours straight.

Between shuffling turkeys from hot ovens to crowded tables, terrible Detroit Lions games and sleeping overnight in line for a Target Black Friday sale, won't somebody please think of the children and keep them occupied and out of trouble over Turkey Day Break?

Here are 30 ways to while away four days of Thanksgiving with your kids without sacrificing your sanity.

1. Play some backyard football

backyard football game

Whether it's just you and your kid and a Nerf football on a slice of grass behind the house or a full-on neighborhood battle in the park, there's no better way to spend a fall afternoon, get out some aggression, get some exercise and grab some bragging rights. Mark an end zone with some twigs and go.

Just stop before you go full on Monica.


2. Go to the movies

people at movie theater

Thanksgiving weekend is the traditional start to holiday blockbuster season at the movies. In fact, the first Harry Potter film, Toy Story 2, Frozen and all four Hunger Games movies were released on Thanksgiving weekend.

Grab some popcorn and see what's on the big screen this year. We highly recommend a theater with reclining seats.

3. Make a Christmas list

christmas list

Santa is currently bringing up the rear at the Macy's parade, so now is the time to sit the kids down with a pencil and paper and have them make their holiday toy wish list to be dropped in the mail to the North Pole.

4. Create DIY crafts

thanksgiving diy crafts

Set up a craft station in the living room with anything from safety scissors and construction paper to crayons and paper towel rolls to something more advanced. All you really need is imagination.

5. Dog-sit

girl with a dog

So many friends and neighbors go away to visit family for Thanksgiving. Offer your kids' services to dog-sit for a couple days. It's much easier when everyone is off and you can be home 24/7 for the guest pupper, and you'll have an instant companion for your child over the break. Great for families that love dogs but don't have the schedule (or allowance in their lease) to have one of their own.

6. Love a parade

girl watching a parade

In person or via satellite, nothing says Thanksgiving more than a parade.

Head down the block to the town main street Thanksgiving parade with firetrucks and Shriners or set up the fam in front of the TV to watch hours of passing balloon floats at the Macy's Day Parade.

7. Visit relatives

kids running to see grandparents

Haven't seen Aunt Shelly in a couple months? Thanksgiving break might not be long enough to fly to see family across the country, but it's the perfect time to load up the car and hit the highway to make a quick overnight jaunt to see a relative who might just be only a few hours away.

8. Shop for Christmas trees

girls at christmas tree farm

For many, Thanksgiving weekend is the traditional time to head to the Christmas tree lot with the family and pick out the perfect O Tannenbaum. But beware – at an average of $66, Black Friday is the most expensive day of the year to buy a Christmas tree.

9. Go camping

people camping

For much of the country, the end of November might be the last chance to pitch a tent outside and camp with the kids before winter sets in. Sleeping bags and campfires are more fun on a holiday weekend, just a few feet into the backyard or miles from nowhere in a national forest.

10. Help with the cooking

girl with grandmother

Have you ever seen “Top Chef Junior?" Kids as young as 10 are creating masterpieces in the kitchen. Your kiddo might not be the next Bobby Flay, but there are many things they can do in the kitchen to feel like they're helping like peeling garlic and mashing potatoes. And even if worse comes to worst, the most klutzy kid can load the dishwasher after the meal.

11. Watch football

girl watching football

The Detroit Lions at 12:30 p.m. (ET) and the Dallas Cowboys at 4:15 p.m. (ET) – every Thanksgiving like the sunrise. Grandpa in the Barcalounger and kids on the floor in front of the set is the biggest non-food Thanksgiving tradition for much of America.

Even if the kids aren't into football, Fox and CBS always make sure the action off the field is as enjoyable as the game, from Santas in the crowd to giant turkey legs and turduckens. And everyone can get a big laugh talking about the “Butt Fumble."

12. Hike in nature

family hiking through nature

The leaves are still crunchy on the ground and a slight chill is in the air. Grab the whole family, bundle up and strap on the hiking boots and hit your local wooded trail or urban park. For extra enjoyment, load everyone up with a thermos of hot chocolate.

13. Visit the library

kid reading a book at the library

A great alternative to the loud and boisterous holiday weekend crowds at the mall is a quiet respite at your local library. Kids of all ages will love browsing through the stacks of books, and many libraries have scheduled story time with wonderful volunteer storytellers. Got some books your kids have grown out of? Let them pack up a box and donate to your local branch.

14. Rake leaves, then jump in them

kid jumping in leaves

Got a yard in need of some leaf cleanup? Buy a child-sized rake and let the kids sweep the fallen leaves into a pile – and then have them jump in it. Then do it again. Last time around, have them help load all the leaves into bags to take to the curb or set aside for composting.

15. Go Black Friday shopping

black friday shopping

Looking for a new Thanksgiving tradition? Many families load up the car right after Thanksgiving dinner and head to the local Target, Best Buy or mall to line up for midnight Black Friday sales.

Warning: This is only for the strong of character, calm of heart and wide of awake.

16. Attend a community play

girls watching play

You don't have to live near Broadway to take in some theater. Local community playhouses, school theater groups and rep companies have amazing productions of all types. And many regional theaters start their Christmas-themed plays Thanksgiving weekend to get in the spirit.

17. Play with LEGOs

kid playing with legos

You can buy LEGO bricks by the pound on eBay. You don't need fancy LEGO sets or movie-branded LEGO worlds. Grab a few pounds of brick varieties, set up a card table and let your kid's imagination do the rest. Play as a family and see how massive a LEGO structure you can build!

18. Break the wishbone

turkey wishbone

If you stop and think about it, it's kind of a gruesome tradition. But breaking the wishbone is a time-honored ritual after a big turkey dinner. It's a practice thousands of years old, so there are no rules.

You don't have to always make a wish over the game. Pit two kids against each other and change it up. Make the loser help with the dishes. Let the winner choose the post-meal movie. The possibilities are endless.

19. Dive into a scavenger hunt


Santa isn't the only one this season that can make a list. Grab a pad of paper and jot down a couple dozen items and let the kids go to town looking around. A scavenger hunt can happen almost anywhere – in the house, around the neighborhood or even on the internet.

20. Put them in charge of the photos

kids taking pictures with retro cameras

Give the mid-range and older kids the job of capturing the Thanksgiving festivities on their phones. Let them take a ton of pictures, and then sort through them after dinner.

When the perfect slideshow is crafted, have them hook their phone up to the Chromecast, Fire Stick or Apple TV and show their project off to the family.

21. Make a time capsule

old family photos in box

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

What does Thanksgiving mean to your family? Ask the kids that question and have them gather some odds and ends, newspaper clippings, printed out photos and personal notes from the family and seal them up in a time capsule box. Store the box away in the attic or buried in the backyard and set a reminder on your phone's calendar to open it up a year, five years or a decade from today.

22. Decorate for the holidays

holiday decorations

Some people don't put up a tree and decorate their house until Christmas Eve. Those people are weird. Everyone knows the holiday season starts the moment pumpkin pie is served Thanksgiving night.

Use your four-day weekend to take the Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa decorations down from the attic or out of storage and start stringing up lights and hanging stockings. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

23. Turn on holiday specials and Hallmark movies

family watching TV

By Thanksgiving weekend, both Hallmark Channel's “Countdown to Christmas" and Hallmark Movie Channel's “Most Wonderful Movies of Christmas" are already well in full swing.

Plop the kids on the couch and flip on either channel any time of day during the holiday weekend and be regaled by the family-friendly acting stylings of Candace Cameron-Bure, Lacey Chabert and Lori Loughlin.

24. Volunteer

family volunteering at food kitchen

Thanksgiving is not only a time for family, but also when we reflect on what we're most thankful for. It's important for kids to understand that everyone isn't as fortunate as they are, and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to give back to your community, formally or informally.

The kids can do it on their own by shoveling driveways or raking yards for elderly or disabled neighbors, making cookies or hot chocolate for the cops and firefighters that have to work on Thanksgiving or knitting scarves and wool caps to donate to sick children.

25. Have a kid exchange

girls at sleepover

Give away your kid for Thanksgiving! Yes, but not quite.

Call up a fellow mom or dad with a kid about your kid's age and propose a sleepover exchange. Your friend's child hosts yours one night and you switch it up for the second night. Your kids are busy and occupied and each of the families get a night off.

26. See a local attraction


Big cities and small alike have a bevy of wonderful fun and educational attractions perfect for a family day out of the house during the holiday. Find a local aquarium or zoo and visit the animals, take in a kid-friendly museum or explore fall in a local garden. And many are free for kids or request a small donation.

27. Get lost in a corn maze

kid in corn maze

From intricate to simple, a corn maze can be hours of fun for kids of any age, whether your goal is to get lost or to get found. Just make sure your phones are charged in case you go missing.

Did you know the first modern corn maze, called “The Amazing Maize Maze," was built in 1993 in Lebanon County, PA, and the largest corn maze is a 60-acre behemoth in Dixon, CA?

28. Catch up on homework

girl doing homework

No, this doesn't sound like fun. But whether your kid is an overachiever or could use a little extra practice, the downtime during holiday break is the perfect chance to get ahead or back on track. It's also a great opportunity for you and your child to sit and have some quiet one-on-one time figuring out math problems and researching history.

29. Have a family video game night

family playing video games

Your kids don't have to play Fortnight or NBA2K by themselves while you're off catching up on “Grey's." Grab a controller and go head-to-head with your child or form teams and play adults versus kids.

Are you a video game n00b? What a great opportunity to have your kid teach you something!

30. Sleep

family napping

No work and no school means no alarm. Let your kids hit the hay late and wake up whenever they want. And they can let you sleep as well by giving them the OK to get up and watch TV or YouTube on their own.

Header photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash



About The Author

Michael is a Philadelphia-based writer with a variety of interests, including music, TV, politics, travel and sports (Fly Eagles Fly!). His background includes a decade as a programming executive in network television, six years as a marketing executive at a technology company and time at two magazines and two advertising agencies. He also sits on the board of a non-profit law firm that assists veterans with disabilities. His work has been featured in nexxt.com, Ale Street News and Radio TV Interview Report Magazine. Michael is a proud Syracuse grad (Newhouse) who has lived in Kansas, Chicago, Saratoga and beyond, and can be found at @phillyparttwo.