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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- Students can write a word or sentence right onto the paper.
- 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 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?”
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”.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.