November is here. Along with the holiday music and all the planning we busy ourselves with (who is hosting what and when, coordinating adorable outfits, travel plans, conniving to get people the most perfect gifts, food shopping, gift buying…is your head spinning like a dreidel yet?!?), November causes us to pause and reflect on all we are grateful for. As parents and educators, our thoughts also turn to being intentional with how we model and teach gratitude to our children.
Of course, children won’t learn to be grateful from one day, week, or even month of thanksgiving, but we can use this time to reflect on what we are doing right, what we might do better, and put some of our ideas into action.
Beyond saying please and thank you, here are some ways to model and teach gratitude daily and explicitly, with examples for home and school.
Model genuine gratitude in the moment. “Aw, I’m so grateful for you putting your shoes away without me even asking! Now I don’t have to worry about tripping on them or the babies touching them.”
Share something you are grateful for each day. At home, this can be part of a morning or bedtime routine, whether you are praying to God or just talking to each other. In the classroom, work it into your morning meeting or routine, during meal or snack, closing group, during yoga brain breaks, or even during transition.
Teach kids to recognize when to be grateful. Kids just don’t see it sometimes. We work so hard to take care of them and give them the best we can. It’s ok to mention it to them. “I noticed you get excited about the bugs outside so, even though I was tired and there was traffic, I stopped at the library on my way home to find some books about the bugs we’ve been seeing.” And of course, shout out what peers and siblings are doing too. “Look, Ethan moved over to make room for you!”
Do less. Make them do more. They might do a task more slowly or less neatly, but they’ll realize how much effort goes into even the smallest thing if they’re doing it, and that will make them more appreciative. There are loads of possible classroom jobs, but I always found that having a helper for meals/snacks (like somebody who put out napkins) was a sure fire way to instill pride in the helper and gratitude in those helped. At home, my favorite is when my toddler helps feed the dogs. He proudly says “my doggie is going to love his food.”
These daily habits will lay the foundation for fostering gratitude, but we don’t have to stop there. Here are more ways to teach gratitude throughout the year.
Gratitude projects: In my house we started a Gratitude Wall that we will continue adding to during this month. My toddler is naming one person or thing that he is grateful for everyday, and we are recording responses on paper hearts that we hang on the wall. (This has also been great for letter and name recognition!) A Gratitude Wall, journal or class book make great classroom activities too. For some meaningful tech integration, involve children in taking photos of the people and things they name.
Goodwill/generosity projects: Beyond volunteering at soup kitchens or nursing homes, kids can help collect items to donate (like all those little toiletry bottles we collect for some reason or unopened school supplies) to those in need. Or simply do something kind when you know somebody needs it, like pulling weeds or bringing the trash barrel in for a neighbor.
Thank you notes: Try taking a picture of your child with a toy or clothes they were given and having your child draw/write a message, or (who has time to print pics?!) have them dictate a message and send a thank you email or text of the photo. Teachers can make sure your class sends thank yous to any special visitors, field trip hosts, classroom donors, even your admin for finally buying new playground equipment. Send thank you cards to veterans, armed forces, community members, the school custodial staff, their parents… seriously, send thanks to anyone who positively impacts your students in any way.
Books: Books can inform and inspire us to be more grateful, empathic, open-minded, decent human beings. Let a book spark your children’s gratitude through thoughtful discussion and action. See 15 Children’s Books that Teach Gratitude.