Top 3 Ways to Make Thanksgiving more Meaningful this Year for your Children (and for You)

Written by Nancy Giacomini, M.A.

Fall is a busy time and making time for a new routine can be virtually impossible, but these activities and suggestions will help make your fall season more meaningful, more peaceful, and will have long-term benefits.  As Thanksgiving approaches, sometimes we can be lack luster in our attempts to celebrate our gratitude for all we have. I’d like to encourage you to make this time a season of gratitude.  Here are my top three suggestions for making gratitude a part of your everyday.


1)     A Daily Gratitude Journal for the month of October (and beyond)

Recent research shows a deep connection between a daily gratitude practice and a reduction in anxiety.  As my school age kiddos are beginning to study for their first tests of the new school year, and my little one is frustrated at not being able to wear shorts, I have found this bit of research impactful in my own family.  We had a gratitude journal most of last year, let it go in late summer and now we need it back again. 

You can get really complicated and fancy with this one by buying a gratitude journal especially made for children; there are plenty.  I would opt for a copybook that the kids can decorate on their own.  Even a bunch of paper stapled together would do the trick, but it might get wrecked with repeated page flipping and then it would become paper clutter. The idea is that this notebook should be considered a special object. Once filled with gratitude, it will be a beautiful keepsake and snapshot of this moment in time.  I strongly suggest embarking on this journey with your children.  Make it a journey the whole family takes part in.


Guidelines for your Journal by Age

Chose a notebook size and a style appropriate for their age.  Here are some guidelines:  For a child that can write a few sentences or more (grade 3 and over, including adults), I’d suggest a simple prompt that they repeat each day.  Just chose one of these.  Only switch it up if you think you’ve chosen one that isn’t inspiring your child.  Otherwise, stay the course and see the exercise through with the same one.  This way they remember what they must do each day without too much effort.  Here are some examples:

1)     Name 5 things you are thankful for that are specific to today

2)     Name 5 things you are thankful for that are specific to today, one for each of the five senses

3)     Name two acts of kindness that you are thankful for today and three other things that you are thankful for that are specific to today

Even with teenagers, young adults, and adults, I’d suggest a simple formula for each day.  It can be exciting to start something new and get complicated with it, but in the long term, simple is better and you won’t drop it once you get busier.  I usually go for the first prompt and if I’m having a harder time remembering anything good, I force myself to remember one meaningful thing using my senses as a guide.


For the 5-8 year-old’s, I’d suggest a notebook that has blank pages so they can draw and include any simple sentences or words that they know.  The prompt will be similar, but keep the list to three items.  Here are some examples:

1)     Draw/ write three things that you are grateful for today.

2)     Draw / write the three best things about today.

3)     Draw/ write your favourite food from today and your favourite playtime or learning activity from today.

4)     Draw/ write your favourite moment in the day (morning, afternoon, evening) What happened that made you felt grateful?


With children under five, I would keep a notebook handy that they can draw in while you work on your journal.  Let them see you do it. Have them ‘work in their book’ while you work in yours.  Keep their book, a few stickers and colors in a box or basket, so you can easily grab everything at once you sit down.


2)    Put together a box or basket of ‘Gratitude Books’

No need to buy any new books for this, unless you’d like to add to your Thanksgiving/Gratitude selection.  If you already have some Thanksgiving themed books, drop them in to your bin, then ask each child (and adult family members, if they want to participate) to:

1)     Drop in a book they love and are very thankful to have found.  (For the littlest participants, just pop in the book that they are obsessing over at the moment…the one you have to read 12 times in a row)

2)     Pop in a book that is on a topic that they love.  So, the book might not be an absolute favourite, but the topic it covers represents what you’re really into.  For example, I love yarn crafts.  I would choose a book I have on knitting that is visually stunning, but that I haven’t used yet because I’m mostly into crochet.

3)     Chose a book that you haven’t read yet, but that you are planning to read this month.  For example, an older child might choose the next installment in a series of books.  The new book in the Dogman series by Dav Pilkey is one my son would choose.  You could include a new book for the little ones, and an adult could include the novel etc. that they are currently reading.  I’m working on Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts.

The idea here is that you have a place for the other members of the family to appreciate what everyone is enjoying lately.  It’s a way to be thankful for each other and our differences, thankful for our curiosity, thankful for learning new things from each other, and thankful that these choices will be different next year.  In that vein, take a picture of all the books once you’ve collected them.  It will be a great reminder of how much we really do change in one short year.


3) Take 10-15 seconds to Give Thanks before each meal this season.

This doesn’t have to be long, or particularly complicated.  A simple “We are thankful for the food we are about to eat” would suffice, especially given the number of people who go without food each day across our city and throughout our world.  Depending on your faith tradition, this can be more elaborate and more specific.  Take a moment to compose or find or write your ‘prayer of thanksgiving.’ Once you have it, just repeat it everyday before you eat together as a family, even when not all your family members are present  Don’t forget to say it even, and maybe more importantly, when you’re eating on the go.  Mindfulness before a meal has shown to improve digestion, decrease the incidence of over-eating and increases mindfulness in general.  Increased mindfulness equals decreased anxiety, and couldn’t we all use a little more of that?


What ways have you incorporated Gratitude into your daily life?

About the Author

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Nancy firmly believes in the power of literature to transform, illuminate and inspire the minds of children. Through her over twenty years of teaching, from school-age children to young adults, her experience has taught her that there is nothing like a classical text, well-loved poem and beautiful work of prose to bring home an idea to a growing mind. Our emotions are definitely a way into our minds and our hearts. A highlight of teaching her students and her own children has been seeing how a great work of literature can be a road into the very heart of understanding, a way to get at an idea at a visceral level and in a holistic way.

She holds a M.A. in Littérature Comparée from l'Université de Montréal and a B.A. in English Literature from McGill University, with a minor in Italian Studies. Her academic work concentrated on identity and the immigrant experience. She now teaches in the English department at Vanier College, Montréal. Her teaching centers around highlighting the contributions of Italian writers to the corpus of world literature, in courses such as "Dante and Popular Culture."

In recent years her focus has been on family life where she whispers poems to her children as they drift off to sleep.

She blogs over at where her mission is to help parents use books in unique ways to teach and inspire their children .