With Thanksgiving right around the corner, we here at Housman Institute are reflecting on gratitude and what it means for the development of emotional intelligence in young children. Robert Emmons, Ph.D. is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. As a professor of psychology and founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, he has discovered that when people regularly engage in gratitude, they experience measurable psychological, physical, and interpersonal benefits.
Within the impressive list of benefits are some that directly reflect the teachings of the begin to ECSEL program. These benefits are the ability to experience higher levels of positive emotions like enthusiasm and optimism, be kinder and more generous to others, and finally be able to cope with stress more effectively and recover more quickly from stressful situations. As teachers of young children, we have been trained through the begin to ECSEL program in how important modeling is and how children learn from example.
In our classrooms, we are sure to express and acknowledge gratitude when tasks are accomplished or when friendly exchanges are made. We as teachers also make an effort to model gratitude to our students whenever we can. This can happen in the simplest of moments, like when our co-teacher hands us a book we forgot to bring to circle, or when a parent holds a door for a parade of children headed to the playground. As long as we express our gratitude clearly enough for children to observe, they will inherently adopt and eventually internalize, these same behaviors.
Another way teachers foster gratitude in their students is through curriculum activities built upon the concept of appreciation, thankfulness, or gratitude. A simple activity that I loved implementing in my own classroom when I was a teacher was inspired by a TEDTalk by Louie Schwartzberg, a nature time-lapse photographer, who speaks about his perspective as an older man, seeing each day and the wonders of the natural world as gifts for which we should be grateful. I would show my students time-lapse videos of nature buzzing and blooming before taking them outside to the nature preserve. There, we would gather around and talk about what we were thankful for and how these various things made us feel. These conversations were always a wonderful insight into the perspective of children and how we can truly be thankful for anything — from the blue sky to the slimy worms!
Another activity that I have loved since childhood is creating a “gratitude tree.” When my siblings and I were younger, my mother would cut a large tree shape out of craft paper and affix it to the dining room wall in preparation for thanksgiving. Then, during the meal, each family member and friend would turn over their leaf-shaped placeholder and scribble something they were thankful for. As the meal ended, we would take turns placing our gratitude leaves on the tree. This was a beautiful way to display our many thanks, the spirit of which I replicated as a teacher in the classroom throughout the year. Maybe you too will try a variation of the gratitude tree with your own families this year! And remember, when you are engaging in gratitude practices, you are celebrating the present and benefiting yourself and those around you.
Wishing You a Very Gratitude-Rich & Happy Thanksgiving,
Jill & The Housman Team