Study after study has shown that gratitude is tied to happiness and life satisfaction in adults. Fortunately, this correlation is also seen in children as young as 5. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, we can begin teaching students how to cultivate a sense of gratitude in and beyond the classroom. Here are five simple strategies to get you started.
- Teach students the benefits of being grateful
Just as we explain to students why learning to read is important, students need to know why we are dedicating time to teaching gratitude. Introduce students to a lesson on being thankful by having them research the physical and mental health benefits of a grateful attitude, which include less stress and anxiety, a decreased risk of depression, better sleep, and a stronger immune system.
- Create a gratitude ritual
While we usually associate gratitude with the holiday season beginning on Thanksgiving, you can begin a tradition of gratefulness at any point in the year. This could be as simple as sharing one positive thing that happened during the week, or having students write down what they are grateful for on a display in the classroom that the teacher reads every month. These rituals remind students to notice when they’re feeling thankful for something or someone that may be overlooked in their day-to-day routine.
- Model thankfulness
Modeling is a huge part of what we do as educators. By practicing gratitude and learning how to cultivate it, we will be better at modeling it for our students. If you decide to create a ritual of gratitude, be sure to take part and set the tone for the activity. Thank your students regularly for being kind to you or another person. Furthermore, make it a point to thank your colleagues while your students are within earshot so they “catch” you practicing what you’re teaching.
- Go beyond saying thank you
When you and your class are expressing what you are thankful for, do more than just make a list. Explaining why you are grateful and how it affects your life deepens the feeling and meaning behind the expression of gratitude. For example, if a student says she is thankful for a friend, encourage her to say what the friendship means to her or what qualities she admires in her friend. Another student may be grateful he got a good grade, so you could ask him what he did to contribute to that success. It’s possible another person helped him study, which would expand his gratitude, or perhaps he put in extra time and effort, and recognizing this will encourage a sense of self-gratitude.
- Use mindfulness
Mindfulness can help students focus in on the here and now. Pair this practice with gratitude and you can help students notice the small stuff that brings them joy. Try doing a gratitude walk where students use their five senses to observe their surroundings and what they are thankful for, such as the leaves changing color, the sound of friends laughing, or how the warm sun feels on their skin.
By Kelli Drummer-Avendano