Do your child’s school celebrations sometimes miss their educational point? One recent debate in the GreatSchools parent community about Thanksgiving feasts offers a glimpse of how even a holiday as innocuous as one devoted to turkey eating can brew controversy over values, culture, and a school’s decision to treat parties as teachable moments.

One mom was so disgusted by the amount of food wasted by her son’s classroom feast one year that she rallied his classmates’ parents in protest. Together they decided that a better use of the children’s time would be to make baskets of food to donate. The next year the entire school followed suit.

The perfect solution to our culture of excess and gluttony? Not so fast. Some parents argue that a Thanksgiving feast at school is a fun, hands-on way to learn about the history behind the holiday while celebrating community and family.

Waste not, want not

Last year, while our second-grade teacher made “stone soup” in the class and all the children shared that soup together, the other two second-grade [classes] celebrated Thanksgiving by having a lavish feast in the cafeteria. While I don’t think the harvest celebration between the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians was a waste, the feast at our school certainly was! I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that “sharing” food one day a year really teaches our children anything. Most children at our school come from affluent families. They will go home and eat more turkey while many families in our community will go without. The sharing of food could be equally achieved by just having some pumpkin pies (or something simple to eat) in the class while they all make baskets of food to donate. If you’d seen the amount of food that was thrown away last year after that feast, you’d see my way also, or so I hope! — by Eccentric

My son’s private school always has a big, expensive feast that we, the parents, must pay for. They send a letter home with the statement, “If you need financial assistance, please let us know.” Well, what if I just feel this is a stupid, unnecessary expense? I love the idea of putting the money toward creating food baskets for needy families instead. I am going to write the school principal immediately and propose Mandolyn

I believe that making baskets for the needy is a great idea. This idea should spread to all schools. Children learn what caring and sharing is all about that way, and we need more of that everywhere. Every holiday should involve something where the needy are concerned. — by Makemesane

Let them eat turkey!

My son’s kindergarten Thanksgiving meal was 13 years ago, and my daughter’s was two years ago. They both learned a ton in those lessons leading up to the lunch. Some of [the other students] tried foods their parents swore they wouldn’t, because they were caught up in the moment. Speaking as a mom of a proud “beige diet” participant, [I know] everything she tried that day was worth it because she’d never eat it at home.

I’m not against a food drive, but in the case of my kids, the Thanksgiving celebration was done as a replacement for lunch. To me, Thanksgiving means [being] together with family, and they’re celebrating with their school family, so honestly it’s all a good lesson learned. — by Magnetmom

While putting together food baskets for others is laudable, don’t discount the value of children experiencing a Thanksgiving feast. At such a feast, children learn about community and thankfulness, and they get to try different foods. There is value in all those experiences as well.

Don’t project guilt onto children by telling them they have much to be thankful for, then not letting them experience those things — food and friendship in this instance. I would suggest that having a feast as well as putting together a food drive would have more meaning for children, because they are then sharing that which they are thankful for. — by Kayrom1

I guess I don’t see “reenacting” the harvest celebration between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians as a waste of food. Don’t the kids need to eat lunch anyway? This way lunch is also educational. Not that I’m [belittling] having a food drive if the kids are actively involved in packing and delivering the food. My experience is [that] the school usually just has a box in the office where kids drop off canned goods. Perhaps having both a feast and a food drive in which the kids are more deeply involved would be best.  — by Buckaroo

A healthy compromise

I don’t see anything wrong with doing both. On the one hand, the children get to experience an enjoyable feast and celebration with their classmates and teachers. A class feast is a great way to introduce diverse cultural customs and food, which is a lesson in itself. At the same time, children can learn about a historic event and the reason and purpose of why we celebrate Thanksgiving. In turn, the children will learn to spread this thankfulness by sharing and contributing to those who are less fortunate in their community with food baskets. The biggest lesson should be that sharing, caring, and being thankful for all of our many blessings is something that should be practiced often and not only during the holidays. — by Nljabb