Countless studies have shown the emotional and physical benefits of gratitude: less stress, stronger immunity, improved sleep, boosted happiness, and the list goes on. Children also reap the rewards of being thankful. Researchers say students who focus on gratitude for a few minutes a day feel more connected to their classmates and more positive about school (Froh, Sefick & Emmons, 2007).
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to introduce children to the benefits of gratitude. Learning about gratitude is vital to a child’s prosocial development as the child learns to express their appreciation of others. With one of the simple activities below, you can promote positive social learning and send your students home with a thankful outlook.
1. Thanksgiving Quilt
Cut 6-inch squares of craft paper in several colors. Allow students to choose a square and write or draw one thing they are grateful to have. Use storytelling and imagination to help younger students understand gratitude. (“If we traveled far away from earth on a spaceship, what would we want to take along?”) Help them make the distinction between temporary, material items and things with inner value.
2. “I’m Thankful” Table Runner
Using a roll of brown craft paper, cut a three-foot strip for each student. Ask them to write the words “I’m Thankful for…” in the center. Next, have them use markers to add words and pictures to complete the sentence. Roll up each paper and tie it with a ribbon. Students can take their projects home to decorate Thanksgiving tables.
If working space is limited, consider having students make placements for each member of their family. Decorate the placemats with craft leaves and a message that starts with, “I am thankful for you because…”
3. Thanksgiving Jar
Label a large container or jar with the words, “I Give Thanks for…” Once a week, give students a few minutes to complete the sentence by writing their thoughts on slips of paper. Add the papers to the jar. Doing this on a regular basis instills the habit of giving thanks year-round and fosters pro-social learning. As the jar fills, students will have a visual reminder of their many blessings. Limit this activity to 5 or 10 minutes, once a week. Otherwise, researchers say it can become habit and lose its impact.
4. Surprise Thank You’s
Purchase a box of thank-you cards featuring a fall scene. Talk with students about the importance of sharing gratitude with friends and loved ones. People love the surprise of finding thank-you cards in the mail, but we don’t have to wait until we receive a gift to thank someone. How about sending a card to someone for being kind, for teaching us something new, or for loving us—even when we make mistakes?
5. Pass the Turkey
For this activity, use a small ball or squishy toy. Ask students to imagine it’s a turkey. The first volunteer hands it to the nearest student, along with a statement of thanks. (“Thanks for helping me pick up my books when I dropped them. Thanks for asking me to play on the swings. Thanks for being my friend.”) Continue until every student has a chance to hold the turkey and receive a statement of thanks from someone else.
6. Gratitude Collage
Use magazines to help students find images of things they’re grateful for. Challenge them to think creatively and recognize things they normally overlook: clouds, warm homes, food, kisses from the family dog, and so on. Have them add the images to a classroom bulletin board labeled “We Give Thanks.” Give each student a chance to explain one of the chosen images on the board. This will help them practice listening with respect and understanding.
However you practice gratitude this season, we at Captain McFinn wish you and your students a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with many blessings!