Holiday Greetings to you! Hope this blog post finds you feeling excited about spending Thanksgiving with your loved ones tomorrow!
Right now I'm really enjoying spending time with my family, but I must admit that over the past few weeks I was feeling a bit melancholy. I won’t be getting political in this blog post, but I will presence that there are things going on in this world right now that leave me feeling deeply disturbed and worrisome about the well-being of this planet and that of future generations.
Sometimes I feel hopeless and overwhelmed about big issues, but I know that I can't just curl up in a ball and cry forever. I've discovered that one of the best ways for me to get out of a negative “funk” is to go to my sit spot (a place in nature that I visit regularly) and express gratitude for all of the things that I am feeling thankful for in that moment.
I first started incorporating a gratitude routine into my daily life when I was a student at Wilderness Awareness School, as the practice of giving thanks plays a significant role in the school's culture and curriculum. Back in the earlier years at Wilderness Awareness School, Jake Swamp, sub-chief of the Wolf clan of the Haudenosaunee confederacy, directly mentored the Wilderness Awareness School community and inspired them to incorporate the routine of sharing gratitude at the beginning and end of each program and meeting. This gratitude ritual has become a "core routine" at Wilderness Awareness School, as well as at all other schools that teach the Eight Shields philosophy.
Jake Swamp’s teachings were rooted in his people’s traditional Thanksgiving Address, an expression of deep gratitude for all beings. These words of gratitude are also know as the “Words Before All Else” amongst the Haudenosaunee because they are recited at the beginning and end of each and every social and religious gathering. Thanksgiving takes place every single day-- and often multiple times a day--not just on one particular day of the year. Coming from a place of gratitude first and foremost has an incredible capacity to set a positive tone for all of our interactions with others.
My experience with practicing gratitude on a regular basis has been quite transformative. The act of simply expressing my appreciation for everything that surrounds me--the air, water, plants, trees, mammals, birds, coffee!, my loved ones, etc.--is nothing short of magical. Even on days when I am feeling really negative, once I start thinking about all of the incredible blessings in my life--all of the amazing things that keep me alive--it lights a fire within me and I find myself going on and on about what I am grateful for with ease. As a result, a more positive attitude naturally emerges from within me.
Gratitude and Nature Connection
One of the greatest benefits of cultivating a gratitude practice is that it inevitably leads to a deeper connection to the natural world. Expressing gratitude invites us to slow down, be present, and truly acknowledge the incredible gifts that nature offers us. When I take the time to express my gratitude for the trees, I am reminded that their fibers provide me with shelter, their fruits give me food, their bark offers medicine. When I gaze gratefully upon the river, I am reminded that the same waters quench my thirst and nourish the plants that I consume. When I soak up the sun's rays with appreciation, I recognize that without the sun's existence, none of the beauty that surrounds me could be possible.
Expressing gratitude is also a daily ritual at Feather and Frond Forest School programs. If you've ever attended a program with us, then you've experienced this practice firsthand. We always take the time to circle up with our students and hold space for gratitude at the beginning and end of our time together. This culture of appreciation is at the heart of our teachings, as we truly believe that expressing gratitude is essential to the cultivation of healthy, nature-connected community.
Our thanksgiving circle can take many forms, and today I’d like to share with you some creative ways that we enjoy cultivating an attitude of gratitude with the children that we mentor. Whether you are a parent or a fellow educator, we hope that these ideas inspire you to incorporate a daily gratitude ritual with the children (and adults!) in your life as well. Many of these suggestions involve a group circle, but I think they can be adjusted to suit a variety of situations. We encourage you to tap into your natural passions to create gratitude rituals that are a unique reflection of your family.
5 Creative Ways to Give Thanks with Children
1. Talking Stick Gratitude: This is our go-to way of holding a gratitude circle. We pass a "talking stick" (or leaf, rock, flower etc) around the circle, and each student may share what they are feeling grateful for once the talking stick reaches their hands. Some children like to "announce" their gratitude into the "microphone".
(Note: Shy or younger kiddos don't always feel called to share in this way, and may feel like they are being "put on the spot". We use our discretion and give students the option of "passing" if they don't feel comfortable or if they need more time to think of what they are thankful for.
2. Theatrical Gratitude: Children naturally enjoy expressing themselves through movement, so oftentimes our gratitude circle involves mimicking the things that we are feeling thankful for. Grateful for the trees? Let it be known by standing tall with your roots (feet) firmly planted in the ground and your branches (arms) reaching up to the sky, swaying in the wind. Excited about the deer you just spotted in the woods? Place some antlers (hands) on top of your head and "rub" them on a nearby "tree"!
Silent Twist: Each person takes a turn mimicking what they are thankful for, without making any noises at all. Everyone else has to guess what it is!
3. Musical Gratitude: It's a fact: music uplifts us all, and children are very responsive to song. We enjoy sharing songs that express our gratitude and lighten the mood as part of our gratitude circle (I'd be happy to share these songs in a future blog post, or you can learn them first hand at our programs!). Sharing musical gratitude is a fun way to energize our time together with melody and dance.
Improvisational Twist: Each child contributes a sound that expresses what they are feeling thankful for to our "gratitude orchestra". This is sometimes a bird or mammal noise, or just a silly random noise! The leader of the circle "conducts" the orchestra, indicating when to get louder or quieter. This often ends with a cacophony of noise that expresses our collective gratitude. It can get pretty wild, but it's a lot of fun!
4. Pass the Gratitude: This is a much shorter and simpler twist on the traditional game of "Telephone". Each person whispers to their neighbor in the circle what they are feeling thankful for, and that person then relays the message out loud to the rest of the group.
5. Anonymous Gratitude: This works great with older kids that can read and write themselves. We set up a "Gratitude Box" (or jar) along with some pens and little slips of paper. All are invited to write down anything that they are feeling appreciative of and place it in the jar, whenever they feel called to do so. These are often anonymous appreciations, but people are welcome to sign their names at the end of their note if they want. Then we randomly pull from the jar and share the appreciations with the rest of the group at a later time.
Bonus: Scout-y "Random Acts of Gratitude" Challenge: Most children love secret scout missions, and this is a sneaky twist on expressing gratitude. We challenge our students to engage in a random of act of kindness towards someone that they are feeling thankful for. Perhaps they choose to secretly wash their family's dinner plates while no one is noticing, or leave a thoughtful anonymous gift for their best friend. The choice is theirs! Like a true scout, we suggest that they keep this random act of kindness a secret. However, we welcome them to report back to us and let us know how their scout mission went!
Well, there you have it: fun, creative, and playful ways to share gratitude with children! We hope that you enjoy these ideas!
Now it's time for us to hear from you! What's YOUR favorite way to express gratitude with your loved ones??
Please comment below and let us know!
We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and we look forward to seeing you and your family at our next Deer and Fawn Day at Fairhaven Park on December 2nd!