In Debbie Nolasco’s preschool class at St. Francis Parish School, the 3-year olds who have spent all week crafting construction paper feathers for headdresses and pint-sized mock-leather vests don’t go by their regular names.

They dreamed up more festive nicknames for themselves, like Chief Bear and Princess Butterfly. Old coffee canisters and discarded containers of baby formula were fashioned into drums. They dipped their little fingers onto artist’s palettes and smeared colorful lines below their eyes to emulate war paint.

And then, they feasted.

Thanksgiving might not fall until Thursday, but the 85 or so preschool kids at St. Francis Parish School who have next week off celebrated the holiday with classmates and teachers this week as if they were pilgrims and indians, including the toddlers in Nolasco’s class.

They feasted on corn chips, potato chips, and waffle cone cornucopias filled with fruit. There were vegetables doused in dressing and, for the main course, they skipped over the traditional turkey and instead gorged themselves on dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets.

“I found out early on that kids don’t like turkey sandwiches, so we give them their favorite,” Nolasco said after pulling a fresh batch from the oven.

Of course, the meal came after the kids worked up an appetite.

Earlier in the day, the kids assembled on the carpet in a circle, dressed up with construction paper headdresses and vests that donned their make-believe names. They were given their drums, Nolasco started a tape, and in no time, the room filled with a cacophony of sound as they sang about what they were thankful for.

“Hooray for bananas,” they sang, placing make-believe fruits to their mouths. “Om nom nom nom.”

“Hooray for jet planes,” they sang, as one boy in glasses spread his arms out, shrieking as he crash- landed onto the carpet.

Then they pretended to hunt for buffalo, drumming intermittently as they imagined walking through the Great Plains.

“Wait, do you hear that?” Nolasco asked her kids, gesturing toward an imaginary bush. What’s back there? Is it a buffalo? “Pee-ew! It’s a skunk! Run!”

And the kids’ whipped their little fists into a fury as they pounded onto their drums, shrieking and laughing as they pretended to flee. They put hands to mouths, making the quintessential “whoop whoop” Native American war cry so often portrayed in movies and cartoons.

“We made it!” Nolasco told the kids. “Are you starving? Are you ready for your feast?”

Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce

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