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The Playlist: Activities for kids that are all about teaching gratitude

Teach your kids about gratitude, from art appreciation to gratitude games.

Even though the holidays are sure to be unique this year, November can still be a really important month to slow down, take a breath, and really appreciate what we have. Appreciation can be for anything from basic needs to family and friends to taking a big vacation, and far beyond. With gratitude comes giving back, and this edition of The Playlist will give ideas for doing both with your children at home.

Winter is approaching, and so is that cozy time when holidays are near and (perhaps along with a healthy dose of anxiety, especially this year) we have that warm feeling of appreciation in our hearts. Read on for ways to appreciate our bodies and minds through exercise and mindfulness practice, as well as crafts, learning through play, and other activities around teaching gratitude.

[ More on giving back: Adopt-a-family holiday programs around Seattle | Ways your family can volunteer at the holidays and year-round | Dad Next Door: Words to live by: Gratitude and generosity ]

Teaching gratitude: Sensory & Play

Teaching gratitude

Use this month as an opportunity to incorporate gratitude into many of the things you’re already doing with your kids. Playing games? Try out a gratitude game! Need a little outdoor “recess?” How about a gratitude hunt? Need to calm your little one down with some sensory activities? Try incorporating some mindfulness into the activity and talk about appreciating our environment, surroundings, or even our calm minds and bodies. Here are some great ideas: 

I am loving this list of gratitude activities for kids, and I have a couple of favorites. The “Gratitude Grab” is like pickup sticks but you pick a category from the basket (grateful to a friend, neighbor, etc.) and depending on how many sticks you pick up, you name a few appreciations. The “Gratitude Hunt” gets the family outside on a hike, writing down all of the things we appreciate in nature. Afterward, come home and share.

For some amazing ideas on how to incorporate mindfulness into sensory activities, head to Lemon Lime Adventures. This page talks about how mindfulness involves accessing all of our senses, and what a perfect introduction to little ones on how to fully engage in and appreciate our surroundings and our physical abilities. You can teach your youngsters to make Calm Down Jars (Image source: Lemon Lime Adventures), or simply give them materials to play with and ask questions like, “Do you enjoy the way this feels in your hands?” ​

Image source: planningplaytime.comThis Gratitude Game (Image source: Teach Beside Me) involves a mini pack of Skittles and a small, printed card for each kiddo that has a list of prompts. On their turn, the child picks a prompt and says an appreciation, and then eats a Skittle. This game can be played with a group and the beauty is that they are sharing their appreciations out loud and hearing one another’s. What a neat idea for siblings, cousins, or friends!

This M&M Thankful Game uses the colors of the M&Ms to prompt different kinds of appreciations, like food, people, and places. This one can be played after a meal or on the go, and is quick and easy.

Scroll down to #4 on this list and you’ll find Gratitude Bingo (and a super cute, free printable). I like this game as an earlier activity in the month, because the little Bingo icons get everyone thinking about all we have to be grateful for in our lives, and it’s as simple as that. Plus, who doesn’t love a game of Bingo?

Teaching gratitude: Media

Books! This month, we were fortunate to have local bookstore Third Place Books send us a list of their favorite books on gratitude. Here they are! 

The Thank You Book – by Mo Willems – For kids of all ages, a great book about not taking those closest to you for granted.

Last Stop on Market Street – by Matt de la Pena – For kids of all ages, this book helps us focus on the beauty in everyday things.

Thanku – edited by Miranda Paul – Beautifully illustrated, this diverse collection of poems celebrates gratitude in all parts of our life.

We are Grateful : Otsaliheliga – by Traci Sorell – From a citizen of Cherokee Nation, a book showing the tradition of gratitude in Cherokee Nation.

Thank you, Omu – by Oge Mora – A gorgeous book on the power of giving and receiving.

Film! Family Movie Night, gratitude-style. 

I like this list of 10 Movies that Inspire Gratitude to watch with your kids. From the classic A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving to the more current Up, there is something for everyone on this list (even the adults!). Many of these movies help us put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, empathize with others, and be more appreciative of our own lives. Watching a few of these films is a sure way to get our warm n’ fuzzies on as we enter the holiday season.

Podcasts! Getting appreciative in the car or on the go. 

To tie into the theme of mindfulness and stopping to appreciate our surroundings in the present moment, this lovely podcast called Peace Out is a series of short stories that help children calm down and relax. As they travel through space, children are guided through visualization and breathing exercises. Great for parents, too!

This silly podcast, 5 Minutes with Dad, fosters appreciation for caregivers and family members, as this silly dad gets on the mic with his two kids to discuss various topics. Here is a ten-minute Thanksgiving Special that hits the spot this month. Here is another specifically about Gratitude. Super sweet and cute.

Teaching gratitude: Food

As we all know, November is the month of the biggest celebration of food all year long. There are many ways to tie food into learning about gratitude, and hopefully these ideas will inspire you to come up with some of your own. Maybe you and your kids will even discover some new Thanksgiving traditions! 

Virtual Friendsgiving for kids! Many of us enjoy this new-ish tradition of gathering with our chosen families in November, so this year, why not do it virtually? Send out a Zoom invite, and each family involved can make a dish and deliver it to the household of each guest. Then, get together online and enjoy the full meal! You certainly don’t need all the trimmings to make it fun (see treat ideas below), just make sure to inc

orporate a gratitude game or give air time for each child to share an appreciation at the table.

Bring a Thanksgiving dish or a little treat to your neighbor. Have your child help with the

 preparations, and talk about why you appreciate the recipient. Add a homemade card, and you’ve made someone’s day!

Here is a fabulous list of 15 Thanksgiving Snacks for Kids that will make you the coolest parent in town. My favorites are the adorable Turkey Pretzels and the healthier Fruit Turkey Platter. Check out our Pinterest page on Gratitude for Kids for lots more delicious ideas. Gobble gobble!

Teaching gratitude: Art

Start the month off with a homemade Gratitude Journal. Decorate the cover, sew or staple the pages together, and then carve out time each day for age-appropriate journaling. This can look like kiddo telling Mom or Dad what to write, making scribbles, or spending a few minutes writing about all of the day’s appreciations.

Paper Bag Gratitude Tree. There are lots of ways to display individual appreciations in a beautiful way, and this tree accomplishes just that. It is fun for kids to twist and shape the paper into a 3-D tree trunk with branches, and cut out the leaves themselves.

For older kids, try this Gratitude Mobile (Image source: mericherry.com), made with beads and string, and requiring the trial and error of achieving balance (STEM integration, perhaps?). Both result in lovely, visual representations of your kids’ appreciations for all to enjoy and reflect on.

Gratitude Stones. This is new to me, but I am completely obsessed. The way it works is this- collect small, flat stones, paint them with a simple design (I like using paint pens), hide them around the house, and each time you see one, you must think of something you are grateful for! It’s simply wonderful.

For getting into the Thanksgiving spirit, here are a couple of ways to incorporate pumpkins into the art making. These Gratitude Paper Pumpkins are made from strips of green and orange paper, and your littles will love how they can see their appreciations on this 3-D form. Or, your family could buy a pumpkin (on sale after Halloween?) and each night at dinner add a phrase or a drawing in Sharpie that speaks to a gratitude. Here is an example.

I love this preschool lesson that is messy, crafty, and meaningful. This Leaf Garland uses shaving cream and paint to marbelize paper, cut the dried artworks into leaves, and add gratitudes in writing before stringing them together to make a garland.

Here is a list of 10 Drawing Prompts (Image source: Lasso the Moon) that help us think about gratitude, from “draw someone who helps you” to “draw something that makes you laugh.” These drawings can be quick or Pictionary-style, or you can break out the paints or colored pencils and go deeper.

For more ideas on themed learning from gardening to construction to ocean life and much more, check out my blog at creativehomeeducation.com.