The holiday frenzy is officially upon us. In the flurry of house-decorating, meal-preparing, and gift-buying, it’s important for us (and the children in our lives) to remember that it’s also a season of gratitude.
And while we’re at it, we should note that gratitude is extremely beneficial year-round.
Research shows that practicing gratitude improves physical and mental health, self-esteem, and even sleep. It’s associated with more empathy, healthier relationships, increased productivity, and beyond.
So, gratitude should be an ongoing practice, and what better time to start than the holiday season?
As the year comes to a close, cultivate an attitude of gratitude in your children or students with these fun activities.
Write in a Gratitude Journal
Writing in a gratitude journal seems simple, but its positive effects are far-reaching. Numerous studies show that simply writing down the things for which we’re thankful enhances health and happiness in both children and adults.
Daily or weekly during the holiday season, have children jot down 3-5 people, things, or experiences for which they’re grateful. Younger children can get in on the fun by drawing pictures.
Download my Gratitude Journal Activities for 24 pages of prompts (perfect for daily gratitude reflections during the holidays), a blank Gratitude from A-Z dictionary, and additional printables that foster thankfulness.
Build a Gratitude Collage
Put a crafty spin on the Gratitude Journal by creating a Gratitude Collage. Children can bring in photos, cut pictures out of magazines, or draw their own pictures to cut out and arrange on poster board or chart paper.
As children build their collages, talk to them about what items they chose and why they’re grateful for them. You can also have children share with their tables or present to the class.
Create a Gratitude Jar
Place a large jar in your classroom, along with some strips of paper and writing utensils. On the paper, have students write “I am thankful for ___________________.” Add a few thankful thoughts of your own to the jar too!
At a set interval, perhaps right before holiday break, read all your thankful thoughts together as a class. If you have a holiday party, incorporate the Gratitude Jar to celebrate the gratitude you and your students feel.
Write Thank You Letters
When it comes to reflecting on gratitude, appreciating people is even more meaningful than appreciating things. Ask your students to write thank you notes to some of the important people in their lives: friends, family members, a special teacher, and so on. Your students will feel just as warm and fuzzy writing the letters as the recipients feel reading them.
You can also try my Gratitude Challenge, which includes 20 gratitude challenges for students, including several thank you notes!
Make a Thankful Turkey
For a holiday-themed gratitude activity, have your students make Thankful Turkeys. On construction paper, students draw a classic “hand turkey,” by tracing their hands and decorating them to look like turkeys.
On each finger (or “feather”), students list one thing they’re especially grateful for this Thanksgiving. Hang the turkeys around the classroom, and/or have students share with partners or groups.
You can do a similar activity with construction paper autumn leaves on a tree, or even by decorating rocks. Children love creatively expressing their gratitude. If you need some turkey books here are some wonderful choices.
Go on a Gratitude Scavenger Hunt
Get active with a fun Gratitude Scavenger Hunt, either outdoors, in your classroom, or even as an activity students can do with their families for homework.
Give students a list of items to search for, and have them document their “finds” by drawing them. Items on the list might include something:
- that makes you smile or laugh
- that’s your favorite color
- that cheers you up when you feel sad
- you like to smell
- you like to taste
- you’re thankful for in your classroom/in nature/in your home
- you could give to someone else to show your appreciation
- that’s useful to you
- you think is beautiful
- you’d like to share with a friend
This activity helps students realize how much they truly have to be thankful for, even in places they might not expect!
Play Gratitude Games
Give each child a snack size pack of Skittles, M&Ms, or other colorful objects. Then, have children share what they’re thankful for according to a color-coded gratitude list. For example:
- blue = a memory you’re thankful for
- ted = a person you’re thankful for
- yellow = something you’re thankful for
- green = a place you’re thankful for
- brown = a quality or skill you’re thankful for
- orange = something you’re thankful you’ve learned
This can be a partner, group, or whole-class activity. To avoid putting children on the spot, give them a few minutes to look over the color code and reflect on their answers before sharing.
Pay it Forward
Gratitude becomes more meaningful when it inspires giving to others. Encourage your students to appreciate what they have and share the gifts they’ve received.
Put together a canned food or toy drive, donate to families in need, collect blankets and jackets for families who may be cold this winter, etc. Work with your students to find a cause you’d like to collectively support this holiday season.
As your students’ thoughts turn to presents, turkey, and exciting holiday plans, help them take time to reflect on gratitude too. However simple these practices sound, they’ll make your students’ holiday season—and even their lives—happier and healthier.