Tips to Help Foster a Lifelong Practice of Gratitude in Young Children

As the holiday season approaches, the month of November reminds us to be thankful for the many positive things happening in our lives!
By ALLISON WILSON, Senior Director of Curriculum and Innovation, KEIRA PRIDE, Manager Library Services, and JEANNE HUYBRECHTS, Chief Academic Officer, Stratford School NOVEMBER 17, 2020
Published on Nov 18, 2020

When we think about gratitude, often we think about expressing thankfulness for the things that we have and the family and friends in our lives. Though an important component of gratitude, psychologists argue that there is much more to developing gratitude in children. In addition to giving thanks and perspective taking, social skills are built as even the youngest members of the family are encouraged to consider their blessings, express their gratitude, and hear the same from others. This ritual builds and reinforces positive cultural norms in an entirely natural and authentic setting.

With this in mind, here are some family activities that will inspire grateful hearts and homes this November:

Grateful Pumpkin

With the fall season in full swing, take advantage of your uncarved pumpkins, or seasonal gourds, with a simple sharpie pen and some family reflection. As a family, discuss what you are thankful for and write your good fortunes on the pumpkin either each day or all at once. By Thanksgiving, place your beautiful pumpkin centerpiece on the table as a symbol of thankfulness.

Gratitude Challenge

Create a calendar with a month of grateful activities. As a family, complete the task each day and discuss how it felt to express gratitude.

• Give someone you love a compliment
• Do a chore for a family member
• Call a loved one from far away
• Close your eyes and picture something you are grateful for
• Name a food that you love
• Create a piece of art that expresses how you feel

Gratitude Scavenger Hunt

Go on a gratitude scavenger hunt! The simple task of appreciating the little things can have a big impact in developing gratitude indoors or outside. Create a list of simple items or experiences to spot in your home or during a walk.

Read Books about Gratitude

Another entirely authentic path to introspection that leads to increased empathy and feelings of gratitude is harnessing the power of stories – stories of characters who model exemplary behavior or who themselves are introspective. Stories “show” rather than “tell,” grounding abstract concepts like gratitude and perseverance in examples of real people who rise above adversity, benefit from the generosity of others, discover beauty in places or cultures unlike their own, or discover the pleasure of even small acts of generosity.

The following books are intended for children from Kindergarten through Middle School, however you might enjoy them as well. Conversations with children about these stories can extend the exercise of “giving thanks” well beyond the holiday season.

Grades Kinder-2

When Grandma Gives you a Lemon Tree by Jamie L B Deenihan, Illustrated by Lorraine Rocha

An upbeat take on the old fable, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Charming, bright illustrations of a young girl who realizes by the end of the story that material possessions aren’t nearly as special as family, community, and the spirit of giving. Look for the book’s companion by the same author/illustrator team, When Grandpa Gives You a Toolbox.

Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora

Mixed-media collage art along with patterned papers and book clippings bring this story of sharing to life. The scrumptious scent of grandmotherly Omu’s stew wafts out her apartment window. A little boy inquires after the delicious smell, followed by a police officer and more until Omu’s generosity means that she has no stew left for dinner. Yet everyone returns, this time to share new ingredients for stew. The little boy tells her, “Don’t worry, Omu. We are not here to ask…We are here to give.” The book speaks to the importance of kindness and not taking others for granted. Read the book together, then spend time as a family creating your own version of Omu’s stew!

Grades 3-4

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity: A Tale of the Genius Ramanujan by Amy Alznauer, illustrated by Daniel Miyares

In this beautifully illustrated picture book, we meet Srinivasa Ramanujan, a brilliant mathematician from early 1900’s India who grew up with a misunderstood passion for numbers. His story is especially compelling because when he was young, one hundred years ago, the world was big and communications were slow. “Back then, if you had an idea – even a rare and wonderful idea – on one side of the world, people on the other side might never know.” Ramanujan found it difficult to connect with other mathematicians so that he could continue to learn and work with scholars. He had to set out and explore the world, and eventually, through his persistence and patience, found Cambridge. His ideas have helped shape areas of science that were not even discovered in his lifetime: computers, black holes, and string theory.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers, Illustrated by Luke Flowers

This GoodReads Choice – Best Picture Book of 2019 will help any child feel thankful to be alive, and appreciate the world. Rogers sang many of these poems on his PBS show, but the words are so meaningful as mini-lessons about figuring out life as a child. Flowers’ illustrations are energetic and feature characters from the iconic television show as well as vignettes of young children. After reading this book together, consider watching the show or the Tom Hanks movie as a family to learn more about Mr. Rogers.

Grades 5-8

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Newbery Medalist Park explores prejudice on the American frontier in this sensitively told story about a multiracial girl in 1880’s Dakota Territory. Great for fans of the Little House on the Prairie series who want to read about a different perspective. The detailed description of daily frontier life will leave young readers thankful for what they have. After reading this together, consider researching customs of the Lakota tribe as discussed by the author in her note at the end of the book.

Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

In this fantasy inspired by Navajo legends, the main character, Nizhoni, discovers that she has powers that other middle schoolers don’t have. Reading about other cultures’ mythologies is a way to expand children’s imagination, empathy, and offer a new way of seeing their world. This is a stunning tale of adventure and family that brings the history and stories of the Navajo people to a contemporary setting, with characters who feel real. There is a glossary of Navajo terms as well as a note from the author to keep readers interested and ready to research more! Part of the “Rick Riordan Presents” imprint of books for middle grade readers, each one in the series draws from mythology and folklore.

Today, as our world becomes more culturally diverse and digitally connected, gratitude may help catalyze the motivation and skills youth need to succeed not just academically but in the “life test” too. We must all do our part to help children develop into responsible adults, who in turn will contribute to a world of compassion and caring. The more we remain committed to this premise, the more rewards we will reap. Anything worthwhile takes a lot of time and effort and it’s up to all of us to make it happen through the lifelong practice of gratitude.

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