Whatever your activities for November and Thanksgiving, I've got some ideas to inspire gratitude in your classroom. Use it to inspire art or just a change of heart as we help children become more grateful, joyful people.
5 Ways to Encourage Gratitude in Students
So, your students are going to create art inspired by gratitude. What if they aren’t grateful? Or, what if, the student has a hard life or has something difficult they are dealing with right now? There are many reasons that students may struggle with gratitude.
Start by defining gratitude. I like the definition of gratitude and its benefits from Psychology Today:
“Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, say, a consumer-oriented emphasis on what one wants or needs—and is currently receiving a great deal of attention as a facet of positive psychology. Gratitude is what gets poured into the glass to make it half full. Studies show that gratitude not only can be deliberately cultivated but can increase levels of well-being and happiness among those who do cultivate it. In addition, grateful thinking—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, and empathy.”
There are real, tangible benefits to being the kind of person who is grateful. Gratitude is worth cultivating, and that attitude permeates the thought of Thanksgiving.
To prepare for your art project, there are a couple of tangible suggestions I have for starting right now cultivating a sense of gratitude:
1. Keep a Joy Journal.
I talked about this in “9 Fine Reasons to Keep a Journal.” Research studies have shown that keeping a 5-minute day gratitude journal will increase your long term well being more than winning a million dollars in the lottery.
Talk about this with students, set a timer, and keep a joy journal every day for the next 2 weeks. Ask older students to plot their mood to see if they notice any change in their own outlook on life. When it is time to create your art, review your journal for patterns of things that bring you joy. Those are great targets for gratitude.
Benefits: This activity can have students writing, journaling, and improving their mood at the same time. You can also encourage parents to join in this activity and educate them on this.
2. Show gratitude to each other
I’ve read that it takes 7 compliments to counterbalance 1 criticism. In a recent human resources blog, I read that the highest performing teams have a ratio of 5.6 or almost 6 compliments for every negative one. (The lowest have .36 or almost 3 negative comments for every positive one.)
My children all have kept an activity from elementary school where every student gave one genuine compliment for every other student. They typed them up and put a picture of each student in front (with classmates behind) with a title like “why we’re thankful for ___ (Suzie or Johnny or insert name there.) The teacher should add one there as well.
Benefits: This activity helps students show gratitude towards each other and to intentionally say thank you and can have an impact on the whole class, particularly in helping them appreciate the strengths of each child.
3. Show gratitude to others who serve
There are so many people who do so much for kids at school. Showing gratitude to each person on staff in meaningful ways can make a difference. You can start off by asking students to give another a genuine verbal compliment and discussing the response they received.
Then, you can level up and have students write thank you notes, cards, or have them use their art as a form of recognition and thank you to those who encourage and serve them. You can also combine this with #youmatter activities.
Benefits: The entire school begins to be reminded to be grateful for one another.
4. Show gratitude to parents and family
Students often take their caregivers for granted. Encourage students to take time to write parents a note or to list all of the things they are grateful for from their parents. Use these thoughts to inspire artwork designed to enhance the thanksgiving experience.
Benefits: strengthen the home/school connection and encourage parents to show gratitude to their children as well.
5. Plan a thank you party
Plan a thank-you party for Thanksgiving centered around saying thank you to heroes among us. Include your artwork and a time of thanks to those who do so much to help kids.
Here's a graphic you can download and use that has lines where students can write things they are thankful for as they color the page.
Benefits: Make meaning as part of your Thanksgiving party.
Plan your art project with a gratitude theme
If you’re looking for art ideas, then peruse, but remember that often kids only need the materials and time and they’ll do the rest to create the art.
Plan your art project around the theme of gratitude
With a basis of understanding gratitude and the types of things they are grateful for, you'll need to prepare for an art project. There are two places I recommend for your planning.
- See 101 Ways to Paint without a brush from Child Central Station for some cool ideas. (I also like their Art Station ideas.)
- Look for ideas on Pinterest. Pinterest is a great place to turn. I like the Thanksgiving Arts & Crafts board of RedSeaCoral and the search “Thanksgiving Art Ideas for Kids” is also a great search. I also think that Amy on Pinterest has some cool ideas.
Resources for Parents and Grandparents
If you're a parent or grandparent and want your grandchild to celebrate with an art project, I recommend that you link up with 247 moms.
- How to Create that Art Spark in Your Kid
- Sibling Bonding through Art
- You should consider joining the 180,000+ parents linking up on 247 Mom's Facebook page as they talk about how to foster creativity and more. Very cool network for parents.
Note: This was first created to promote Everyartist.me,; now that domain name is no longer run by the original company. For the safety of my readers, I've updated this post and removed references to the non-profit that is no longer operating.