Thanksgiving All Year: 11 Ideas for Teaching Children Gratitude

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“Put popcorn in the microwave and have children shout out something for which each child is grateful when you hear the sound of the kernels popping!”


Teaching Gratitude
Practicing gratitude and thanks-giving makes you a happier person. What people of faith have known for generations now has the stamp of approval from therapists who heal with mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy. The researchers at Greater Good Science Center study emotional and emotional well-being – the science of a meaningful life. Their studies show that feeling grateful motivates students to help others and use their strengths to contribute to society. Gratitude does good!

It takes intentional modeling to teach thankfulness. Notice the thought behind an action or gift; appreciate the cost of an action, and the value of other people in our lives. One way of modeling this last gratitude lesson is to spend time how one person’s action influences those around them: “My day (or life) is better because…” An example of this might be, “My day is better when everyone says ‘hello’ when they walk in the door.”

Here you’ll find some ideas for practicing gratitude in the Sunday school classroom, children’s chapel, and in the home.

1. Create a Space for Thanks
Designate a gratitude area in the home or classroom which has a variety of paper, pens and markers, index cards, and tape. Use it as a place for some of the ideas in this list as well as a place to write quick thank you notes. Over time it can be decorated with a candle, items from nature, and other surprise blessings.

2. Carry Scripture Passages on Gratitude
Look up all the references to offering thanks (practicing gratitude) from the Bible. Write down the passages on small pieces of paper, and put them in a jar. Pull one out every day to carry around, savor, and memorize.

3. The “Best Thing” Game
Play “the best thing about” game. Think of a person, a situation, a place, and take turns saying things like “The best thing about my church is the music we sing.”  To help spark ideas, get a pack of wide, wooden sticks, and write down people’s names, places, pets, etc.  Place the sticks in a decorative jar, keeping it in a place where the family or children gather.  Draw one stick out for each time you play the game.

4. Make a Thankfulness Window
Start a stained glass gratitude window each month or season. Tear up pieces of different colored tissue paper, keep them in a basket or a box, and have children write down something they are grateful for on each piece of paper and tape them to a window that gets lots of sun. Watch the window’s design evolve over time. (If the idea of scraping off all that tape is not something for which you’ll feel grateful – use wax paper over the window!)

5. Create a Gratitude Newspaper
Become the editor of you own paper: the Thanksgiving News. Write the date, draw a picture, and write down the news of the day from the point of view of being grateful.  Post these news items and watch the gratitude grow over time. This could be done with scrap paper, large post-its, a magnet or chalk board, or if you have the space, with markers on a wall painted with white board paint.

6. Say Goodbye to Some “Stuff”
Rather than discard “good” clutter, designate one day a month for the family to toss thing which have served you well, but you don’t need any more. Put them all together, say a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing. List them on a site like Freecycle or put them on the street with a sign that says “Free.”

7. Giving Thanks with Popcorn!
Put popcorn in the microwave and have children shout out something for which each child is grateful when you hear the sound of the kernels popping. Keep going until the popping stops.

8. Show Gratitude for Good and the Bad…
Model gratitude even for not-so-good things: Thank you for the dog eating my favorite slippers.  (Remember, this is practicing. You don’t have to totally feel it to practice it.)

9. Make Blessing Cards 
These are lovely using gold or silver metallic pens on black or red paper. Write down a blessing – any good wish or deed – for another family member or classmate. Tuck the card in a pocket or under a pillow as a surprise.

10. Create a Gratitude Song Book
Take a simple thanksgiving or seasonal hymn such as “Tis the Gift to Be Simple” or “For the Beauty of the Earth” and make a picture book from the lyrics. You can download images from online, draw pictures yourself, or use family photographs.

11. Capture it on Film
On Thanksgiving, or whenever the extended family is gathered, consider taking annual photos or videos. Create and album and share it with family at your next gathering. Or consider videotaping an interview with the oldest person there.


Brook Packard is a musician, singer, and songwriter in addition to many other creative endeavors. Her faith formation curricula and songs can be found at The Calendar Song website. She is the author of the forth coming book, When the Bishop Comes to Visit: An Activity Book for All Ages.  Learn more about Brook at her website

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