Thanksgiving is a whole holiday dedicated that warm, fuzzy feeling when we get to focus on the big and small things we are grateful for. I've always loved Thanksgiving, not only for the comfy combo of being stuffed and sleepy, but because there's an air of generosity and gratitude.
It's a simple holiday, one that doesn't require gimmicks and gifts – just time with family and carbohydrates. Thanksgiving Day itself comes and goes too fast, but we can celebrate the beauty of the season all month long.
Here are five ways to focus on gratitude with your family:
It's important for children to have the opportunity to share stories. It lets them use words in powerful ways, and gives them a chance to express their feelings about situations. According to the authors of "A Year of Playing Skillfully, "storytelling develops your child's language and literacy skills and can also be a helpful emotional tool."
To begin journaling, I asked my son Javin to tell me a story about a time he was thankful. He didn't really tell much of a story, so I modeled it for him. I recounted our morning at Papa's and the wonderful breakfast we had. Everybody held hands while Javin said a prayer asking for a good, loving day. I felt thankful for the good food, for the opportunity to share it with my family, and for having my dad in town.
When it was Javin's turn, I wrote down his story exactly as he said it. (There's no need to worry about grammar with this exercise. Let them own their story completely.) Then I had him draw a picture to go along with it, and asked him to tell me the story that goes with the picture. He still didn't tell much of a story, but we'll get there with practice.
His picture is of the four of us snuggling on the couch, and I'll treasure it.
There was a community yard sale in our neighborhood last weekend, and we bought as much junk for a dollar as we could rationalize. We even found a heart-shaped cake pan. It was perfect for the festive goodies we wanted to bake for some of our favorite neighbors.
We made pumpkin banana breads, and gave them out with notes of thanks for their love and kindness. This bread is seriously delicious. Josh told me it's the best one I've made yet.
Through this, children learn not only the joy of giving and expressing gratitude, but the math, science, and motor skills involved in baking. Hand them over the measuring cups, and have them set the kitchen timer!
We made a tree out of a brown paper grocery bag, and cut out leaves on construction paper. (You could have your children decorate the leaves with glitter and/or paint, but I voted nay. I did let them finger paint the trunk and glue on the letters for THANK YOU.) I put the leaves in a basket by the tree, and every evening we take turns talking about what we're thankful for. I write down what everyone says, and hang them on the tree.
Last night, Javin was thankful that everyone is nice to him. Josh was thankful he has a wife who's willing to move to Costa Rica. Can you believe what I was thankful for? That's right, the opportunity to be home with my children. I'm excited to watch our tree become fuller with leaves as the month goes on. (I adapted this idea from "A Year of Playing Skillfully.")
At our favorite park in downtown Orlando, there are often homeless people sitting on benches and lying on the grass. Since Javin first saw me give the bananas I had in my bag to a couple of people who asked for something to eat, he's been very concerned with making sure other people aren't hungry.
This morning we talked about how wonderful it is that we have everything we need. Whenever we are hungry, we have food. When we are cold, we have warm clothes. When we are tired, we have comfy beds of our very own. We talked about the fact that not everyone has these things, and Javin said he wanted to make sandwiches and go feed the people in the park breakfast. I was kind of thinking we could volunteer in a soup kitchen or something like that, but his idea sounded better and more immediate, so we did just that.
He asked people if they wanted a peanut butter and jelly without any shyness, and handed his messy creations out with joy. I don't know who benefits more from this stuff, the giver or receiver? We should do this more often.
Javin cut out a bunch of different shapes and used them to make a crafted version of himself. When he was finished adhering his mohawk and mouth, I asked him what he likes about himself, what makes him special, and what he's good at.
It's important to feel thankful not only for the wonderful things outside ourselves, but the goodness within us, too. Practicing self-gratitude makes us feel good, and the better we feel, the better others feel.
The point here is that we don't need to do anything extraordinary to be worthy of celebration. We deserve to feel good about ourselves just as we are.
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