Mayflower Movies: Teaching Kids About the First Thanksgiving


If you’re looking for a way to rehearse the Thanksgiving story with your family this holiday season, consider a family movie. Thanksgiving movies that relate the story of the Pilgrims are an entertaining way to help kids make connections about what they’ve learned in school about the first Thanksgiving. It’s also a great way to begin family discussions about freedom, what it looks like and what those first Americans sacrificed to get it. Although there are many fun Thanksgiving movies, these suggestions go right to the heart of the story through the eyes of those who experienced it.

Desperate Crossing: the Untold Story of the Mayflower

Desperate Crossing: the Untold Story of the Mayflower is a History Channel docu-drama that tells the story of the Pilgrims all the way back to the beginning when they first left England for Holland. This first part of their journey lasted 13 years before they actually made the crossing of the ocean in the Mayflower.

This movie really digs deep into many parts of the story that aren’t commonly known or remembered. For example, the journey was actually to be made in two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell, but the Speedwell was left behind because it was declared unseaworthy. Another little-known part of the Pilgrim adventure covered in this movie is that they actually landed first at Cape Cod, were driven off by Native Americans and continued to Plymouth. There they made their famous landing at Plymouth Rock.

At 140 minutes, this movie is a bit lengthy for young children, so watching it in segments or saving it for older children and adults are good options.

The Mouse on the Mayflower

Perfect for younger viewers, The Mouse on the Mayflower gives a historically accurate telling of the Pilgrims and their journey to the new land, only this time, it’s through the eyes of a mouse. A community of mice travel along with the Pilgrims as they leave England for Holland and then for America. One particular mouse, William, tells the story and gets involved in the outcome by helping the Pilgrims save the ship from sinking.

The Mouse on the Mayflower takes the Pilgrim story across the ocean to the landing on Plymouth Rock. It covers the signing of the Mayflower Compact and the first difficult year in the new world. William the mouse also helps by thwarting a plan to blame the Native American for an attack on the Pilgrim’s. This animated film originally aired in November of 1968 and features the voice talents of Eddie Albert, Joanie Summers and Paul Frees. The movie was produced by Rankin Bass, famous for several hit movies like Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

Mayflower: The Pilgrims’ Adventure

Mayflower: The Pilgrims’ Adventure is a 1979 made-for-TV drama about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. This movie stars a young Anthony Hopkins as Captain Jones, the captain of the Mayflower. Richard Crenna is the Reverend William Brewster and David Duke plays Miles Standish. The movie includes the other well-known Thanksgiving characters of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.

This version of the Pilgrim’s story takes place mostly aboard the Mayflower itself and deals with the difficult relationships between the Pilgrims and the crew and the harsh realities of crossing the Atlantic in the tiny Mayflower. The film gives a great sense of the character of the Pilgrims, their political views, religious values and faith. Mayflower: The Pilgrims’ Adventure is great Thanksgiving viewing for the entire family.