Gratitude, or expressing thankfulness, is the secret sauce to fulfilled days at home and in the classroom. Although still not perfect, and sometimes not even particularly good, the days nevertheless feel fulfilled with a thankful mindset.
At the first school I taught at, the curriculum took a backseat to social skills and life skills. Unfortunately, this was not because we were progressive pioneers rebelling against standardized tests to prioritize mental health and the whole child in our lesson plans. Rather, it was a response to a series of needs that could range from, “I’m tired because my foster siblings fought all night.”, to, “I’m going to throw chairs because that’s the only way I know how to try and connect with my teachers and peers.”. These were the most physically and emotionally demanding (and some of the most rewarding) years of my teaching career.
When our jobs start to take a toll, and our sorry ass crawls into bed at night, we can often be inundated with a wave of unwanted, toxic thoughts telling us that we’re not doing enough.
I once watched an interview with Jay Shetty, who said, “The science shows that when you're present in gratitude, you can't be anywhere else. If you're having a grateful thought, you can't worry at the same time. If you're having a thankful thought, you can't feel anxiety at the same time. Gratitude has been proven to boost your mood and your immunity.”. This resonated with me deeply- we literally have the power to halt unhelpful, toxic thoughts.
Big change starts with these words: end each day with the intent we need to start the next.
Does this sound familiar? We go to bed knocked down and deflated, only to wake up the next day stuck in the same vicious cycle of thinking, “I’m not good enough. I’m not doing enough.” So, I started a gratitude journal. Each night, my husband Matt and I continue to write down simple things that we are thankful for. This small tweak to our bedtime routine helped us have better sleeps, wake up more refreshed, and overcome some pretty difficult shit. Needless to say, I felt more confident as a partner and a teacher.
Was it just a coincidence?
Here are just some benefits of intentionally and consistently practicing gratitude (credit: Amy Morin, psychotherapist and best-selling author).
- Blocks negative thoughts
- Can improve self-confidence
- Magnifies mindfulness and fulfillment
- Boosts resiliency and mental fortitude
- Boosts energy
- Reduces stress responses (e.g., aggression)
- Improves sleep cycles
- Relationship-building skills (with oneself and others)
- Channels empathy & compassion
Here are some ways that you can foster an attitude of gratitude in your kids:
By making time to pause and be mindful, we are modeling to our kids how to become more attentive, reflective and intentional humans. This directly supports relationship-building with others AND emotional intelligence with ourselves (e.g., recognizing our feelings as messages). This can look like more immersed time in nature, their own mini gratitude journals routines, and frequent sensory breaks (which can include anything from open movement to music, sensory bin invitations or art to reflect a feeling or an experience).
Talking about gratitude is a good start, but reading books and making time for action-oriented activities is always the best way to reinforce skills in primary.
Click on the images below to check out some social emotional learning activities that each focus on gratitude:
Check out a variety of gratitude crafts, by clicking the picture below.
This gratitude journal is a perfect way to check-in and boost empathy skills.
These cards for friends and community helpers, are wonderful and simple ways to express gratitude. Pro tip: keep them on hand for a beautiful early finisher activity all year round.
For more random acts of kindness ideas, check out the Kindness Blog.
This FREE gratitude cootie catcher is a wonderful way to encourage discussions surrounding gratitude, in a threat-free, inviting way. Students will assemble their fortune tellers and play to reveal a conversation starter.
Outdoor exploration is the key to developing a deep, lifelong appreciation for the world around us. Here are certain prompts that you can use on your next nature walk or stroll through suburbia:
What do you notice that you haven't noticed before?
Can you find something that is [color]?
Can you see any evidence of animals?
Find something that makes you wonder.
Find something that you think is beautiful.
Close your eyes and share one or two sounds you hear.
What do you love most about our walks?
These evergreen read alouds we are loving for discussions surrounding gratitude (a larger list and blog post for this on the way), include:
Circles Around Us by Brad Montague
Gratitude is my Superpower by Alicia Ortega
Thanks from the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora
How do you practice gratitude at home? What small, mighty moments are you grateful for today?
Let me know in the comments below!