How Do You Teach Young Children About Gratitude ?
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It involves family, friends and food, three of my favorite things! And while I count my blessings every day, I love that there is a full day (or if you celebrate "Friendsgiving" on Friday) a whole weekend devoted to gratitude.
As a nursery school teacher, I always looked forward to teaching young children about giving thanks, and when this November holiday rolled around, I was duly rewarded by the natural optimism and positive outlook, that my young charges had about their world.
The discussion usually went something like this: I would begin by asking a group of three and four-year-olds the following question: "what are the things that make you happy?" The most common responses - my mommy, my daddy, and my toys - were not surprising. From there we would break down the word "thanksgiving" explaining that the word is another way of saying giving thanks or being thankful for those things that make us happy. As we went around the circle and children volunteered answers ranging from the very general, my family - to the very specific, my red firetruck that grandma gave me that has a siren- their interest in thinking about the things that made them happy grew. Our annual “what we are thankful for” list was compiled and sent to parents eliciting smiles and even tears. One memorable entry from many years ago was a little boy who was thankful for “Ursula the sea-witch from the movie, The Little Mermaid”!
We also always talked about how many families would have a special meal or feast to celebrate all that they were thankful for. We would introduce the term "celebration foods" and talk about traditional Thanksgiving fare. Children would happily talk about their plans for the holiday, often including details about travel and family visits. Another tradition at the school was for the staff to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving feast on the Tuesday before, so children had a bit of a rehearsal for the big day. This team effort demonstrated for the children what sharing looks like as each teacher had prepared his or her favorite recipe, and how good it feels to sit together to share a meal and celebrate. Teachers took this opportunity to talk with children about families, about having good manners, and about trying new foods.
Our yearly traditions framed Thanksgiving in a way that young children understood and reinforced the underlying message of gratitude.
It is never too early to learn to count your blessings.
Have a wonderful holiday!