Do you remember this song?

Over the river and through the woods
To Grandmother’s house we go.
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
Through white and drifted snow.

It’s hard to say when this famous American poem became so synonymous with the Christmas holiday, but the tune truly belongs to Thanksgiving.

Written by journalist, poet, and human rights advocate Lydia Maria Child, the poem first appeared in Child’s Flowers for Children, Volume 2, in 1844.

It was originally titled “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day,” and celebrates Child’s childhood memories of visiting her Grandfather’s house.

As an advocate for Native American rights, anti-slavery laws, and women’s voting rights, Child raised her voice on many issues flaring in the in the 1840s, but refused to raise a fist. Her writings urged people to find a peaceful, non-violent way to progress.

The song can be a great holiday tradition for your family, too. We’ve put together a few simple ways to adapt the song to your child’s learning ability.

Learn more about helping families create musical traditions together in online Kindermusik Educator training. Click here to receive FREE information on becoming a Kindermusik Educator.

Baby (newborn to 2)

Hold your baby close and bounce in rhythm to the music, or pat the steady beat of the song on her back as you sing the song. Studies show a baby prefers the sound of her mother’s voice, and the sound of your voice paired with rhythm of the words – as you gently rock baby, or pat her on the back – helps your baby begin to identify the patterns of language.

Toddler (2 to 3 years)

The “giddy-up” tempo of this song makes it a great lap bounce for toddlers. Exaggerate the movement words, and make the weather and animal sounds mentioned in the lyrics to help your toddler better connect the vocabulary word to the physical movement.

Preschool (3 to 5 years)

Sing the song together and ask your preschooler to draw a picture of the story, and act it out: Pretend to ride a sled, ride through the wind, and ring bells!

Big Kids (5 to 7)

Engage your big kid’s active imagination and write your own lyrics about your family’s Thanksgiving tradition. Use the “Over the River” melody with lyrics about your own journey to Grandma’s house. What do you see? What does the weather do? Do you go over a river? Write your own lyrics.

Click here to see the long and short form of the lyrics.

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Talk with your family about the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday. You’ll find several folk and Americana songs in this collection of Kindermusik songs, “America the Musical Vol. 1 and 2.” Lydia Maria Child would have loved the song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” a song used to help people find the Underground Railroad.

Alvin and the Chipmunks

The Andrews Sisters and Danny Kaye

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