How to Teach Gratitude and Giving Through the Imagination
Every year, our grade school students create an elegant and delicious Thanksgiving feast for the neighborhood fairies to enjoy. These photos show last year's feast, which was created with much love and enthusiasm, and by all appearances, eaten with enthusiasm as well. After magically turning it from beeswax into fairy food, the dainty fairies devoured it and left a mess of beeswax crumbs. They also made some changes to the “Happy Thanksgiving!” message the children had left, removing “Happy” and “Giving” leaving behind a grateful “Thanks!”
Of course it is lots of fun for the children to create this feast, but it’s important learning as well. Research shows that practicing both gratitude and altruism has numerous benefits, physical, psychological, and social. But how to get children to flex their giving and receiving muscles, without sounding like a nag? The answer: imagination. While children don’t always react well to adult admonitions to “Give so-and-so a cookie,” they are delighted to create a gift for fairies who come to life for them through stories and their imaginations. Though they normally proudly take home their beeswax creations, this feast is joyfully left behind. Their glee is even greater when they arrive back on Monday morning and find that the fairies have devoured the meal and left a note of thanks.
The imaginative elements of this activity truly bring to life the pleasure of giving from your heart and receiving thanks from another. And what’s more, it’s easy to bring home as well. The holiday season provides a perfect time for children to give from the heart, whether to real or imaginary figures. Here are a few ideas:
Allow your child to select a toy or other gift for a child in need, donating the gift to Toys for Tots or another organization coordinating such giving.
Leave an elaborate feast for Santa Claus, if his visit is a part of your holidays. The feast could be real food, or could be made from play-doh or clay. (In our house, Santa enjoys a bar of good chocolate.)
Many organizations have coat and mitten drives at this time of year. Have your child help select a new garment to give, or invite them to donate something they have outgrown. Some children may find it easier to give to someone they know: perhaps they have a younger cousin or a friend with a younger sibling who would be delighted with a new-to-them coat. If your child is hesitant, rather than pushing, simply lead by example, donating something of your own. Next year you may find they are much more willing.
Work together to make or purchase a gift for a friend, neighbor, or pet…or simply tell a story about a fairy or gnome, and create a gift for this new friend.
We wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving!