As early childhood educators, some of the greatest hopes we have for the children we teach are that they’re happy, they see themselves in a positive light, and they’re compassionate towards others. One way we can help children on the path towards these traits is to create a classroom where gratitude is actively practiced. As writer William Arthur Ward said:
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
Practicing gratitude for joy and satisfaction
Being grateful is an important aspect of positive psychology, a branch of psychology first developed by Martin Seligman, that looks at the strengths and virtues that allow people and communities to thrive. For more information about fostering gratitude in children, read this interesting article from the Greater Good Science Centre at the University of California.
Practicing gratitude has many benefits. It can create more meaning and satisfaction in our lives, boost positive emotions such as joy and enthusiasm, develop resilience, strengthen relationships and foster compassion. Practicing gratitude helps us to notice the ‘good stuff’ in life and savour it too.
Create a gratitude tree
So, how can we develop an attitude of gratitude in our classrooms?
One lovely way to create an attitude of gratitude within your classroom (or at home) is with a gratitude tree. Here’s what you should do:
- Collect some twigs, willow or branches (why not turn it into a collaborative art project with the children, and involve them too?)
- Arrange the branches in a large vase
- Put sand or large stones in the bottom of the vase to stabilize the branches
- Arrange them so they look like a tree – minus the leaves
- Draw and cut out leaf shapes onto cardboard
- Punch a hole in the end, and attach some string
- Pop them in a basket with some markers
If you need more ideas, take a look at a few examples of gratitude trees.
I’m thankful for…
At a circle time, show the tree to the children, but ask them if there’s anything that’s missing. Hopefully they’ll say the leaves! Explain that it’s a gratitude tree, and that everyone in the class is going to help the tree grow new leaves by thinking of things they’re thankful for. With younger children, you could simplify it by asking about ‘good things’ that have happened. Model the process of making the first few leaves by sharing what you’re thankful for, such as:
I’m thankful that Mae helped me to pack away the blocks today.
I’m thankful for my friends.
I’m thankful for seeing a rainbow today.
Acts of kindness and good bits of the day
Then invite the children to share what they’re thankful for, and help them to write a leaf. There are lots of ways you could incorporate this ritual into the day. In the past, we’ve lit a candle at the end of the day, played relaxing music to have some thinking time, and then shared what we’re thankful for. It was a lovely way stop, breathe, reflect, and end the day on a positive note.
With other classes, the children would notice something they were thankful for, and approach me straight away for help to write a gratitude leaf. But in both cases, it became an important ritual for the children, and the practice of noticing the acts of kindness and good bits of the day became naturally embedded in the children’s language and interactions with each other. It also meant that the teachers became much more aware of modeling and expressing gratitude to the children, too.
To further explore the concept of gratitude with the children in your class, why not share The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein?
This article was written by Wenone Hope (Blue Mountains, Australia).
Wenone was born and raised in the farming region of Wagga Wagga, Australia. She now finds herself teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in the Czech Republic. A teacher for 12 years, she has a background in Early Childhood Education and has also done postgraduate studies in Special Education and Early Intervention. Wenone is an Early Childhood Consultant at Lipa Learning, and has also been a Preschool Educational Leader in the Blue Mountains and a Primary School Educational Director in Canberra, Australia. She’s an advocate for inclusive education, where diversity in the classroom (and life!) is celebrated. When she’s not in the classroom, she’s out in nature, playing roller-derby, traveling, or enjoying a good book.