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Feasting on holiday history

Westridge kindergarteners come together as pilgrims, Native Americans
by: Vern Uyetake, Dressed in handmade pilgrim garb, Savannah Bailey stirs a mixture that will become pumpkin muffins for her class to enjoy at their Thanksgiving feast.

Before the class 'feast' at Westridge Elementary School, the succulent taste of turkey was the only aspect of Thanksgiving that Rex Wolf appreciated.

But in the two weeks leading up to the celebration, he learned much, much more about the holiday's origins. Now, he thinks Native American traditions are super cool.

'They helped the pilgrims,' said Wolf, a kindergartner at Westridge. 'They taught them how to fish and hunt.'

Wolf and his peers donned handmade Native American headdresses Wednesday, while the school's other kindergarten class arrived as pilgrims.

The two classes came together for the historically geared feast, as a way to celebrate and learn about Thanksgiving before giving thanks with their families on the real holiday.

Now considered a tradition in many American classrooms, the Thanksgiving dress-up celebration at Westridge featured the signing of a peace treaty and a dinner consisting of mashed potatoes, pumpkin muffins and turkey roll-ups.

Old-fashioned popcorn, which the pilgrims and Native Americans ate at their first meal together, also graced the tables.

Grandmothers and mothers scurried around the room, guiding their mini pilgrims and Native Americans to stations to teach them how to plant with fish (made of candy), weave construction paper placemats and create a friendship necklace out of beads.

'It's such a hands-on experience,' said their teacher, Kelly Troike. 'They're not just learning things, they're learning how to learn and get along.'

The students 'really get' the Thanksgiving story, she added, which tells how the pilgrims left Europe to escape religious persecution and sailed to Plymouth Rock, Mass., in 1620.

In her lessons, Troike emphasized the hardships the pilgrims faced during the winter months and the three-day feast that brought them together with the Native Americans who helped many survive.

'They learn about how two different ideologies came together but how we're really all the same,' Troike said. 'It's about how both parties were living out their different values but remained tolerant to everyone's differences.'

Some of those survival skills were included in class activities, such as 'sorting' pictures of food that could be planted, grown in the soil or hunted.

The neatest fact Hayden Moore learned about Thanksgiving was that the pilgrims used a small pot as a toilet while they sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.

'It was stinky,' he said.

Casey Smith liked the idea of the 'bossy' King of England who wouldn't let the pilgrims worship God the way they wished.

'The fun thing about today is that activities like this bring out different personalities,' Troike said with a chuckle.

To show just how small the Mayflower was, Troike explained that it about as large as two Suburban SUVs, but it had to fit more than 100 people for the long journey west.

'We all got into a tight group and swayed side-by-side,' she said.