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6 Kid-Friendly Activities to Encourage Thankfulness and Gratitude

child painting a thank you note with craft supplies
Yuliya Evstratenko/Shutterstock

Thanksgiving isn’t just about food and dessert (although feasting is a yummy component). Inspiring gratitude in your kids is a great way to get in touch with the deeper essence of Thanksgiving. Here are some fun ways to do so.

You don’t want to force thankfulness, such as telling your kids, “Be grateful for what you’ve got!” over and over again. Instead, engage in these fun, inspiring, creative projects, letting gratitude naturally unfold.

And then indulge in the delicious food, knowing that you’ve checked off the “let’s be thankful first” box.

Make a Thankfulness Tree

This is a great way to display little messages of gratitude for each other. Try to make it a week or two before Thanksgiving, so you have enough time to add love to it. It also makes a great centerpiece for your dinner table.

Start by gathering some twigs and sticks from outside. Put them in a jar or vase, then hang leaves made from construction paper. Write sweet messages of gratitude on each leaf, either towards each other or for specific things—such as “I’m grateful for delicious food.”

Read more at Meaningful Mama.

Gratitude Jar

a glass jar decorated for Thanksgiving to hold gratitude notes

Every household should have a permanent gratitude jar, a place to store delightful memories and positive thoughts throughout the year.

You can use any sized jar—the bigger, the better! Decorate it any way you want, with leaves, hearts, butterflies, pumpkins. Then have a pile of notecards, pens, crayons, and colored pencils nearby. Spend a few minutes every night or once a week writing down a memory, a thoughtful gesture, or just something that gives you pure joy—such as “I’m grateful for the sunshine.”

Pull out the notecards at Thanksgiving, taking turns reading the notes out loud. You can also save some to read on other special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or on a rainy day.

Read more at Kids Activities.

Give Thanks Place Cards

Download free printables from Your Modern Family. Then write a specific message for each person who will be joining you for Thanksgiving dinner. You can write why you’re thankful for them, or a lovely memory, such as “I loved our trip to the zoo.”

Help guide younger kids with this project, offering suggestions, so they don’t feel stuck writing, “I’m grateful for you” on every notecard.

Random Acts of Kindness

turkey cookies where the feathers are messages
A Turtle’s Life for Me

Engaging in random acts of kindness is always a good thing. It’s never too early to start exposing your children to the selfless act of giving without expecting anything back in return.

Encourage your children to take on this attitude all year round, not just during Thanksgiving. They can look for random ways to spread joy, writing them down on a whiteboard, or stuffing the ideas into a jar. Make a point of aiming for one random act of kindness every day during Thanksgiving week.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Cookie turkeys: Individually wrap large cookies (either store-bought or homemade) with plastic wrap. Add googly eyes and glue on feathers made from construction paper. Write what you appreciate most about each person on the feathers. Read the full tutorial at A Turtle’s Life For Me.
  • Gratitude quotes with sidewalk chalk: Use colorful sidewalk chalk to write grateful quotes on your neighborhood’s sidewalks. Try to write a specific message in front of each neighbor’s home, such as “I love your beautiful lawn” or “I’m grateful for your rose bushes.”
  • Invite people to Thanksgiving dinner: Not everyone has family around for the holidays, and sometimes they can’t afford to travel. Reach out to people who’ll be alone during the holidays or post a notice at a local university for international students who aren’t able to travel home.
  • Turkey fruit platter: This is an easy-to-make project that is fun and delicious! Make a few for teachers, friends, or neighbors. Check out Produce for Kids for ideas.
  • Gift pies: Who doesn’t love pie? If you have time, make some delicious pies with your kids, or have them pick out a few ones at the store. Then deliver them to friends, neighbors, or homeless shelters with a thoughtful card attached to each one.
  • Homeless donation box: Buy some warm hats, gloves, and scarves and fill a cardboard box with them. Use cardboard paper and googly eyes to decorate them. Then take them to local homeless shelters for those in need. Read more at Happy Home Fairy.
  • Gift a turkey: Not everyone can afford a full Thanksgiving feast. You can buy a whole turkey, gifting it to a local family in need. Or hand out gift cards to local grocery stores, helping contribute towards someone’s Thanksgiving feast.

“Turkey” Toss

If you have any kind of turkey doll, then you’re all set. Otherwise, you can make a “turkey” ball (read the instructions at I Can Teach My Child).

Toss the “turkey” back and forth to family members, shouting out something you’re thankful for. You can do this outside, in the living room, or pass it around the dinner table.

Encourage kids to say whatever comes to their mind first, even if it seems silly. “I’m grateful for this spoon!” or “I’m thankful for candy.” Keep going as it takes a while for some people to warm up to this activity.

Thanksgiving Placemats

Brighten up your Thanksgiving dinner table with these vibrant, hand-made placemats. All you need is construction paper, glue, markers, and some real leaves from outside.

You can write a specific poem or grateful message to each dinner guest, or just cover them with inspiring quotes and bright, vibrant drawings.

Read more at Mama’s Happy Hive.

Remember, gratitude and thankfulness should come naturally. Set aside time to enjoy these activities together, letting the warmth, fun, and wholesomeness permeate your family’s home. Together you can find ways to let your gratitude and thankfulness shine forth.

Above all else, enjoy this holiday. It’s all about spending time with family.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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