“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
An attitude of gratitude is a big thing in our house. According to articles (based on research) in Psychology Today, New York Times, and other sources, gratitude leads to higher satisfaction in life, reduces stress, and, in general, just makes you happier! But we don’t really need to cite a bunch of research…these findings are pretty common sense. So, here are our top 5 tips to homeschooling a gracious and thankful attitude in your children. (To listen to a more thorough discussion, check out our Homeschooling Thankfulness Podcast!)
1) Teach a Lesson about Thankfulness
There are so many ways to teach a thankful lesson. The following are some simple ideas that don’t take much time, but can instill a new mindset.
- Big Life Journal is a great way to teach gratitude – just do one lesson a week, and in 26 weeks, the journal will not only help your children grow a “growth mindset,” but will also change their world view by helping them to see beyond themselves.
- Ask your children to write a thank you letter once a week to mail to a friend or extended family member, or to put under a sibling or parent’s pillow. (You can even slip in some letter writing instruction as well.) Beautiful stationary or asking them to draw their own pictures (for your more artistically motivated little ones) can make it an even more special experience!
- Make an Alphabet Thankful Chart on a dry erase board that you can complete weekly or monthly, individually or as a family. I’m thankful for A = Animals, B = Balance Beams, C = my Cat, and so on. You might have some silly giggly moments, adding to the fun!
- Study a trusted source of wisdom, like the Bible. There are so many great quotes and verses from wisdom books.
- Read a story, chapter book, or picture book about thankfulness. The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, is a story about how a tree loved his boy unconditionally and gave him everything, thankful to show love to him. The Magic Fish, by Freya Littledale, depicts how ungratefulness leads to dissatisfaction in life and (spoiler alert!) eventually the loss of so many blessings.
- Reading a true story, chapter book, or picture book about another person’s life will help your kids gain perspective about their own luxuries, conveniences, and liberties too – hopefully producing a grateful attitude as well. Make sure you follow up the read-aloud with the deep questions and discussion to truly make a significant impact on their perspective. A great example, and one of my personal favorites, is the picture book, Malala’s Magic Pencil, and she also has a chapter book, Malala: My Standing Up for Girls’ Rights, both by Malala Yousafzai herself!
- Check out lessons online through TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers) for lapbooks, activities, and more.
2) Practice Thankfulness Daily
A positive attitude and a grateful character require practice just like anything else in our lives. Another important aspect of this practice is to learn what your children are thankful for – to learn what matters to them. This extra window into their heart may help you in making your homeschooling decisions and in designing your daily plans.
- A Thankful Journal is part of my kids Solo Time, and then we discuss their daily thankfulness journal entry as part of our Dailies. It’s an uplifting, meaningful time together.
- You can buy a thankful journal from an online or brick-and-mortar book retailer. You can have a little adventure letting them pick out their own.
- I made our own thankful journal with 100 entries for my kids and me to complete daily. I used our graphic design site and my comb binding machine (I love you comb binding!) to make it. I gave my kids instructions to fill up the three lines available for each entry. I also required that nothing can be repeated within a week of thankful entries. This way, my kids are encouraged to think of a variety of people, things, and ideas that they are thankful for. This one is a free downloadable that we use, that you can pick which pages work best for your children, and print multiple copies 2 per page.
- Not into journaling? You can have a thankful moment at dinner every night, and just go around the table for each person to share their “Thankfuls” for the day.
- We used to do our “Thankfuls” in the car. Every time we drove to swim lessons or gymnastics, we would each state a thankful. Sometimes, we made it a guessing game like, “I’m thankful for something that is furry.” Then we’d have to guess – our cats? Your stuffed snake? My kids loved doing this especially when they were younger.
- Ask your kids, “What are your Rainbows and Puddles from today?” My daughter made that up, and it’s so perfect. Rainbows are basically what made you happy during the day – your “Thankfuls.” The puddles are your moments of sadness from that day. We usually say these as part of our bedtime routine. If you have time to have a discussion while cuddling them in bed, it’s a really neat way to learn their interpretation of the day’s events and the impact it made on them.
3) Make a Thankful Craft
There’s all different kinds of thankful crafts you can try. Pick a craft that will bring joy into your home and smiles to your kids faces. One way to make sure your children enjoy the craft time is to pair it with special scents, their choice of music, or a fun snack.
- Create a Thankfulness Tree.
- It’s nice to use the cinnamon-scented branches you find online, at Michaels, or a grocery store. Then, rubber band the branches loosely together like a bouquet, and put them in a mason jar…and now the branches are a tree! (This appeals to their sense of smell as well.)
- You and the kids can gather and then trace a few fallen leaves from outside, photocopy the traced leaves onto fall-colored cardstock, and then cut out about 100 leaves. (This activity appeals to their sense of sight and smell – being in the beautiful fall nature.)
- Punch a hole in the cardstock leaf and tie some twine on it. (If you get cotton twine, then you can try to dye it the colors you want.)
- Everyone can make thankful leaves for their own tree. They can make leaves for each family member to hang on those trees as well. You can do one per day for October and November, or a bunch at once.
- We had these trees sitting out as reminders, and then on Thanksgiving, our extended family members also added to our trees. It was quite the bonding experience! (This craft would pair well with The Giving Tree read-aloud and discussion as well.)
- Create a foundation of thankfulness with painting rocks!
- Pick up some smooth and plain river rocks and permanent markers or paint markers. Fill a basket with rocks.
- Every day, ask your children to write one thing they are thankful for on a rock, using 1-3 words (or they can draw a picture of their thankful). Then, sprinkle the rocks throughout your garden, play room, school room…anywhere! Do this once a week, or make a whole bunch of thankful rocks in one day – and then be constantly reminded of each others’ thankfuls throughout your day!
- You can also explore Pinterest for many more fun ideas.
4) Serve Others
As Phoebe Buffay showed us in a hilarious Friends episode about altruism, serving others is mutually beneficial – and one benefit can be that it can grow a heart of thankfulness. We have participated in a number of service activities that truly remind us how thankful we should be. These activities include donating to canned food drives, giving the homeless Ziplocs of necessities, putting together a gift shoebox for Operation Christmas Child (usually due in mid-November), and remote-adopting a child for a year with The Compassion Experience. (To learn more about these opportunities, check out our Giving blog!) Through these service projects, we have been able to have a more tangible discussion about helping others whom we have never met – as a fruit of our thankfulness for the blessings we have received. There are other ways, however, to serve people that your children do know.
- Door Dash Delights – Ask each of your children to pick someone they are thankful for, write a thoughtful card to them, put it with a box of chocolates, homemade plate of cookies, or flowers, and then go ding-dong-ditch a drop-off delight! Pile the whole family into the car and drive around to the various locations for an evening of fun.
- Neighborly Niceties – This is where your kids can each pick a neighbor that you know, and then offer, as a family, to rake their leaves, mow their lawn, etc.
- Happy Helpers – Call up one of your favorite families and offer to clean their home, paint a room, clean their chicken coop, plant a herb garden, or finish a DIY home project for them as a family. Utilize your expertise and offer whatever service would benefit some of your favorite people.
- Caring Contributions – Sit down as a family and ask your kids, how would they like to contribute their time to serve others? What are some ideas they have to contribute to their parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, and other communities near them. They may have some great ideas! Once they solidify their choice, ask them to write out the steps and materials they need to pursue their contribution.
- Precious Prayers – If you are a family of faith, praying for others is a big way to serve them. Not only does this access God’s power in His providence to care for His people, but also it directs our hearts towards others. I know that when I pray for friends and families going through hard times, it keeps my mind on them. I remember to ask them about their hardships, their joys, and their sadness during trials – which encourages them to know that they are not alone. (We also pray for complete strangers…for example, while driving, whenever an ambulance flies by, we pray for the people in the ambulance, the family members, and the hospital staff.) This redirection of heart and mind brings a somber thankfulness for our own health and blessings we currently have.
5) Model Thankfulness
Modeling thankfulness can be one of the more difficult things to do in this list of five – because it really requires us moms and dads to find the thankful in everything – in the good and the bad. If we are not in the practice of doing so, and have a habit of grumbling or criticizing every experience, news broadcast, conversation, and public or private interaction, then this is a good reminder to you to change your ways. I’m no expert at this and have lots to still work on too – we are in this together! So the following are some examples of how many of us can work on modeling thankfulness:
- Stuck in traffic? You can say out loud, “I’m so glad I have this extra time to ________.” (discuss an important topic with my kids, listen to an audio book, carschool our history or Latin, plan our next event, etc.) You can also say, “Isn’t it a blessing that we get to be waiting in traffic instead of injured in the car accident up ahead of us?”
- When you have had a hard interaction with a friend, instead of saying bad things about a friend, say out loud, “We had a hard conversation or interaction, but I am so thankful that I have this person in my life. She/He teaches (or challenges) me to ________.” (be patient, be compassionate, be thoughtful, be honest, be better at speaking up, try new things, think outside the box, work harder, study more, etc.)
- A friend is late in meeting you for a playdate? Say out-loud, “This gives me more time to _______.” (clean up my house/car, relax and just be present, enjoy the sights and sounds around me, return a phone call or email that’s been weighing on me, etc.)
- Sometimes our homeschool days do not go as planned, and it can be super discouraging and cause anxiety. Instead of nagging our kids or blaming them, we can say out-loud, “Let’s list the things we really enjoyed (or learned, or accomplished, or figured out) today! Even the smallest things!”
You get the idea. Just reframing our lens out-loud in a kind and thankful voice, in front of our kids, teaches them to find their thankful in difficult situations and also the mundane moments.
That’s it! That’s five ways you can grow a gratitude mindset in your homeschooling. It will make a big difference in your children’s hearts and lives…and in yours as well. It will also make a significant impact in those who surround you too – being a person that lifts people up instead of bringing them down can help enrich friendships and just make you a pleasant person to be around. Thankfulness is a gift that keeps on giving and can truly lead to living a satisfying life!
“For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.”Elie Wiesel, writer, professor, Holocaust survivor
Mandi and Jessica are homeschooling BFFs, running a co-op, a blog, and a podcast. They have a passion for inspiring parents to consider and pursue homeschooling to create a custom education for their unique children. They love talking all things homeschool and share many tricks, tips, and wisdoms they have learned along the way. You can follow them on their blog, The Coop Homeschool, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and listen to their Podcast.