Thanksgiving Tree

This blog on about how to make a Thanksgiving tree was originally published 11-13-2012 and was updated 11-9-2023.

Today we have a Thanksgiving occupational therapy activity that kids and adults love…a Thanksgiving Tree! This gratitude activity is a powerful and meaningful way to express thanks and gratitude this time of year.

Thanksgiving tree

What is a Thanksgiving Tree?

A Thanksgiving tree is a creative and interactive way to express gratitude and celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving. It typically involves a visual representation of a tree where individuals can attach leaves or notes expressing what they are thankful for.

The Thanksgiving tree serves as a visual representation of collective gratitude, creating a positive and uplifting atmosphere within the classroom or therapy clinic…and it’s an occupational therapy craft that builds skills, too.

A Thanksgiving tree can be set up in the home, school classroom, or public space such as a therapy clinic. This is a great way to build skills with OT, ST, or PT clients with a group activity.

In a therapy clinic setting, a Thanksgiving tree can be a meaningful and therapeutic activity because all clients and therapy employees can help to decorate the Thanksgiving tree with their own thoughts of gratitude.

How to Make a Thanksgiving Tree

You’ll want to start by creating the tree, and this can be a group activity , or you can set up the tree base and then students and clients can decorate the tree. You can do this in several different ways:

  • Use a branch collected from outside (this is how we made our Thanksgiving tree shown in the images below). You can tape paper leaves right to the branch.
  • Use posterboard or construction paper to create a tree outline on the wall. With this option, you can use sticky tack to attach gratitude leaves to the wall.
  • Use a Christmas tree that isn’t yet decorated for the Christmas holiday. Attach paper leaves using string.

Gratitude Leaves

Next, create the gratitude leaves, made from construction paper. Or, you could use the gratitude leaf template we have inside the OT Toolbox Membership club under Thanksgiving Therapy Theme.

  1. Provide cut-out leaves or paper shapes for individuals to write or draw their expressions of gratitude. Or, you can ask the students to cut out their leaf shapes if you are working on scissor skills.
  2. Students can write a word or sentence right onto the paper.
  3. Add lines using a (Amazon affiliate link) LegiLiner.

The leaves can be made from colorful construction paper to embrace the Thanksgiving season by incorporating autumn colors. Or, just use markers to write on printer paper.

You can even use the same leaves to create a gratitude leaf garland to show thankfulness this time of year.

Classroom Gratitude Tree

This could be a great classroom activity for all of the students in a classroom to do as a group. The paper leaves can be used as a handwriting prompt for older students or a Thanksgiving handwriting center for younger students.

Students can hang their own leaf on the tree as part of the exercise.

This can include things like personal achievements, positive experiences, or the support they’ve received.

Thanksgiving Group Activity:

Make the classroom Thanksgiving tree a group activity where students and even other classrooms can collaboratively contribute to the Thanksgiving tree. This fosters a sense of community and shared positivity.

In the therapy setting, a thanksgiving tree can support therapeutic goals, too. Connect the activity to therapeutic goals. For example, it can be linked to building positive affirmations, reinforcing coping strategies, or acknowledging personal growth.

Thanksgiving Tree Mindfulness Activity

You can use a Thanksgiving tree as a Thanksgiving mindfulness exercise, too. The activity allows students to engage in a mindful moment as they focus on what they are thankful for. This can be particularly beneficial in promoting a growth mindset.

We know the benefits of mindfulness and how expressing gratitude can support students in the classroom or kiddos receiving therapy services.

To extend the activity, pair the gratitude leaves with a Thanksgiving mindfulness activity, our deep breathing turkey visual prompt.

Simple Thanksgiving Tree

We have a tradition of making a Thanksgiving Tree this time of year.  It is one of my favorite things about this season.

We started the tradition of making a Thanksgiving Tree three years ago.  The kids and I will pick a stick from out in the yard and bring it in for a centerpiece on our dining room table.  
One of the kids or I will cut leaves from construction paper and they will tell me all of the things that they are thankful for.  


I love to hear the things that they are thankful for. 
I have been saving the leaves from each year in an envelope labeled with the year and keep it in a storage bin in our attic, along with the rest of our fall decor.  
It was so much fun this year to read the leaves along with the kids. They loved hearing what they said last year and the year before.  We had quite a few leaves dedicated to various stuffed animals, a leaf expressing Big Brother’s thankfulness for our neighbor’s dog, and a leaf that commemorates Big Sister’s fondness for Miss. Hannigan from Annie.  There are the sweet ones that say “my little brother”, “my baby sister”, “Grandparents”, “my sippy cup”, and “Mommy and Daddy”.


Thanksgiving Tree


Planes and Fuzzballs got some thanks in this house last year….
…And Zebras, Phones, and Annie the year before 🙂

We tape the leaves on the stick and prop it up in a centerpiece to enjoy all season long.  They love to look at it during meals and say “What does that brown one say, Mom”, or “Does this one say cousins?”

In previous years, I would start them out and say “I am thankful for…” and write my own leaf.  Big Sister did a pretty god job the first year of coming up with her own ideas.  Last year Big Brother was 2 and was able to identify some things on his own (“my silky blanket”).
This year, Big Sister helped to write them in her upper case letter, new-writer handwriting… and I know I am going to look back at them years from now and LOVE reading them!


They love this centerpiece on the table during meals…and this year, big sister is able to read some of the words herself.  Little Guy will ask her what they say and she’ll tell him “It says HOME”.



Some of the cute ones this year…“God and Jesus”, “the mall”, “mac and cheese”, and Little Guy was sure to express his gratitude for “mustard”.

And of course, where would Big Sister’s rock collection be without the dresser???
Have you done a Thankful tree before?  I would love to hear about it!


If you are looking for more Thanksgiving activities to do along with your Thanksgiving tree, be sure to grab a copy of the Thanksgiving Fine Motor Kit.

Thanksgiving Fine Motor Kit

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to


4 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Tree”

  1. I love this idea! We don't have kids yet – expecting our first in December – but I may start this this year for when my little sisters come over. I think it's also a good idea for adults as we need to remember what we are thankful for too!

    I think saving them is an amazing idea. Maybe one day you can make a big tree with all of the leaves from past years?

  2. That is a great idea! The kids really loved going through the leaves from previous years together with me. Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy! The end of the pregnancy can be so tough…Hang in there!

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Thanksgiving tree

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