Fostering Kids’ Gratitude, Part 2: Create a Gratitude Wall

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I’m not so hot at making block letters. It doesn’t matter.

To move beyond a brief Thanksgiving Day conversation when it comes to focusing on gratitude, I’m trying out two different things with the boys this year. The first is gratitude postcards. The second is a gratitude wall.

Now let me start out by saying I’m aware there are way prettier, more-Instagram-worthy gratitude activities out there. I’m thinking in particular of a gratitude tree, an idea I’ve seen a few different places. You cut leaf shapes out of construction paper, punch little holes in them, attach strings, have kids write what they’re grateful for on said leaves, and hang the finished leaves on a branch in a vase.

It’s such a beautiful idea; if you have the space and desire to create your own gratitude tree, please send me a picture. But over here, well, pretty sure it will never happen.

For one, where exactly would we put this tree? We have one kitchen counter and one table for eating and both are already covered with too much stuff as it is. Two, I don’t feel like cutting leaves out of construction paper. Not my jam. Third, part of the beauty of a gratitude exercise is seeing the list of blessings pile up. I don’t want to have to gently cup each leaf in my palm and turn it sideways to read what it says. I want our experience to be BAM!, would you look at all those things we have to be thankful for?!? We’re so fortunate!

So that’s why I decided on a wall. Or the side of a cupboard that’s serving as a wall, to be more precise. I started by making the “We are thankful” sign in bubble letters. It looks amateur, and guess what? It’s because I am an amateur! Then I cut up a bunch of red, orange, yellow, and brown construction paper into little rectangles. They’re all different sizes with crooked edges, and guess what? No one cares! We started writing the things we’re thankful for on these crooked little rectangles and taping them up, as you’ll see in the picture above. Guess what? No Instagram filter is capable of making the broom and dustpan in the photo background look less ugly!

My point is that social media can make it seem like not only should we be doing all these fun, meaningful, creative activities with our kids, but we should totally nail the aesthetic in the process. Yes, I love pretty things, and there’s a time and place for them. But there’s also a time and place for focusing just on making the meaningful thing happen in the most efficient way possible. A parent only has so much time and energy. I’m a recovering perfectionist who’s starting to take a certain message to heart: the perfect is the enemy of the good.

And gratitude, in whatever form it takes, is good. Really good. When the boys and I sat at the table this afternoon with our black markers and construction paper, it didn’t matter that our papers weren’t leaf-shaped and that we didn’t have a lovely way to display them. What mattered was that Nate wrote “my brothers” on his very first slip of paper. That Evan’s face lit up when he started talking about his passion for soccer. That they both loved reading the specific things I wrote about them. That we schemed about coming up with so many things that we’ll fill up the side of the cupboard and have to use the doors, too. That when Mike got home, Nate couldn’t wait to tell him about the gratitude wall, and Evan requested he (Mike – so many “he’s” in this family!) make some additions of his own. So much gratitude flowed out as we wrote on those little slips of papers, and so much more will flow as our wall grows fuller and fuller.

This tiny little corner of our crowded kitchen counter has been christened “the gratitude station” for the next couple weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. It consists of the blank postcards to draw on and send to people we’re thankful for, stamps, and the scraps of paper to keep documenting all the blessings in our lives.

I hope you’ll find inspiration to start your own gratitude practices with your kids. It doesn’t matter what they look like — just start.

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