As a mom, there are so many moments throughout the year when I pause to tally up the things I’m grateful for. Always at the top of the list is the health of my children, something I realize no amount of money can buy. Like most people, I often get caught up in the day-to-day craziness of life, but even on days that feel bad, I’m always aware I’ve got it good.
It’s easy enough to be conscious of the major things that make me and my family fortunate – shelter, food, clean water, medical care, education, and freedom of speech. Then there are the less obvious (or more overlooked) things like access to free parks and art programs, libraries, and other things that make life richer. Once I had children, all these things became more prominent for me as I worked to instill in my kids a sense of value and appreciation for what they have – and what many others do not.
This time of year, the idea of giving thanks moves to the forefront and becomes an integral part of holiday celebrations and traditions. While Pinterest is filled with “thankful” crafts for the Thanksgiving table, I like the idea of doing something that extends beyond the turkey dinner, the family, and the home. I’m lucky to live in a very close-knit and active community, so for me, giving thanks involves reaching out and giving back.
After all, the more thought and work you put into expressing your thanks, the more impact it has! If you’re looking for some creative ways to give thanks this year — along with the help of your children — here are some fun ideas that help everyone remember what’s important to them…
1. Put on a Thanksgiving parade. Rally friends and families and put together a march through the neighborhood. Kids can decorate scooters, bikes, and wagons — and bring out their musical instruments to strike up a band. Everyone can get involved in making banners and flags showing what they’re thankful for. This is great fun and a fantastic way to get everyone involved.
2. Make someone happy… with a free drink. Put up a lemonade or cider stand and give drinks away… for free! Imagine how thrilled passers-by will be when they get a refreshment just because. No money, no strings attached. Just ask them to jot down on a slip of paper something they’re thankful for and put it in a big jar. Afterwards, you can have fun sorting through the jar and reading the wonderful messages.
3. Give a high-five to hard-working teachers. Every day when I drop my kids off at school, I thank my stars for the incredible teachers and staff who care for them, nurture them, and keep them on the straight-and-narrow. Start a “Person of the Week” bulletin board or banner at school that gives some applause and appreciation to the hard-working staff, from the principal to the cleaning crew. And, be sure not to leave the students out of it… they work hard too!
4. Create a book. This is something a therapist friend told me about. She works with a lot of kids and uses this as a way to get them focused on positive action. Write a book with your children entitled 100 Ways to Be Nice. Come up with the list together and let the kids gradually illustrate (or take photos for) the individual pages. This is great way to expand the annual thanks-fest into the rest of the year.
5. Be a meaningful mentor. I was lucky to have a good education when I was growing up, but so many kids don’t have that fortune. Mentoring is one of the most valuable things any of us can do to help a child along in their learning. If you have an older son or daughter, get them in involved in mentoring too; it’s the perfect way to express thanks for the knowledge and education you’ve been given and pass it forward to others.
6. Make something green and gorgeous. Take over an ugly patch of (public) dirt and transform it! Don’t wait for the city to do it; if it’s sitting there neglected, it’s likely to stay that way. In my neighborhood, a wonderful homeless man collected donated figurines and discarded plants and created miniature sculpture gardens on an unsightly triangle of brown dirt. Every day, I drive by and it makes me smile. This is an ideal way to say thank you to your town and your ‘hood.
7. Send a care package. As the daughter of an Army dad, the idea of supporting U.S. soldiers is something near and dear to my heart. There’s no better time to show thanks for all these men and women do to support our country and protect our freedom. Send a soldier the most awesome care package ever to let them know you’re thankful! There are plenty of charities that offer ways to assist members of the armed forces serving overseas. AnySoldier and Operation Gratitude are both worth checking out, while sites like Charity Navigator allow you to see reviews of charities before you become invested.
8. Make a feast of encouragement. While you’re feasting on stuffing and mashed potatoes, put together a feast of encouragement as well. I took a parenting class years ago, and at one point we formed circles and did something called a “Feast of Encouragement.” Each person said something they appreciated about the person to their right, moving around the group. Since we were all relative strangers, it was fascinating to hear what people picked up on and appreciated. I’ve done this with my own family many times since, and it’s wonderful and always enlightening.
9. Surprise someone with sweets. Bake or purchase some goodies and deliver them to local firefights and cops. They don’t get nearly enough thanks for the services they perform, so surprising them with a delicious “thank you” is well-deserved… and sure to be well-received!
10. Create a time capsule. Have everyone in the family choose an item they’re thankful for (my sons would probably pick a Lego or a piece of gum) –- then place it in a box, label it with the date, and store it away so you can re-open it next Thanksgiving and reminisce. This is a fun one to do with the kids every year.
11. Start a charity. It’s amazing what a little manpower and creativity can accomplish. Kids and adults alike have launched charities of all kinds, so choose a cause you care about and get to work! Not only does will your efforts benefit those who really need it, but you’ll send the message that you’re thankful enough to make others’ needs a priority in your life. If you’re not sure where to begin, check out this how-to article.
*This post is sponsored by Mott’s