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The Thanking Tree

Most of us know The Giving Tree. Many of us have mixed feelings and regard for the story just as we do holidays like Thanksgiving, which embrace noble principles but are couched in more complicated history and practices.

The words thankful and gratitude have curious roots that come from words related to memory, thought, feeling, goodwill and favor. They're all bundled up together. We teach our kids that it's polite to give thanks but do we teach them to think about the source, nature and depth of their gratitude? Many parents like me often nudge our kids. We remind them to say, "Thank you." We prompt, "What do you say?" I've done it many a time. However, when I slow down, more often, I ask first how something makes them feel. I might even specifically inquire whether they appreciate something. Then I try to help them make the connection: How can we let someone know that we appreciate something? How do we tell someone that what they did was nice or helpful? I want them to feel the gratitude, not just express it.

The Kids and the Craft

This year, well, it's been a year. Being a history nut, I usually push back on traditional tropes about Thanksgiving just as I do with Columbus Day and other things. Still, traditions and meaning matter. I wanted to do something to re-orient the kids around the concept of gratitude this year. I had cleared a spot for our funky, spooky Halloween tree, so it occurred to me that I could just as well keep that space occupied by a thanking tree. The kids and I tromped around the leafy woods and gathered suitable branches to pluck in a jar. Then, we set out origami paper and pre-cut construction paper leaves. A chalkboard note, a bucket of pens and pencils, some paper clips, and we were all set. We even relocated a few survivor pumpkins and kept out the lovely autumn tablecloth that a friend made us years ago. (Psst, if you don't feel super artsy, you can just fold paper up into triangles. They look kind of like leaves. Also, you can find leaf outlines to trace online or just grab some leaves outside.)

The idea is simple: Pause during the day, when you feel like it or just when you get up or before you go to bed, and write a note of thanks to anyone or anything. Thank a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a teacher, a politician, a pet, a squirrel or hop toad in the yard, a household appliance, a bit of dirt, the wind, the weather, the country, trees, voters, the Sun, the tides, the universe, yourself, your body, you name it. Thank someone, something, and mean it. Then hang the leaf or note on the tree.

Ours has been growing quite a bit already (since I took this pic), and that's a nice thing to see. Maybe we'll take turns sharing at the end of the month. I'm not entirely sure yet.

The Books

In the meantime, we also set out some of our favorite picture books with a spirit of thankfulness, kindness, or sharing. What you nurture, you grow. Here's hoping anyways. Here's hoping you might enjoy some of these stories, too:

Check out some more books about gratitude from Brightly. Feel free to let me know about other good titles, too!

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