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 .

The brain of an early elementary school student is not ready for homework

Written by Cindy Hovington, Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Founder of

Montreal, Canada

There is an ongoing debate regarding whether homework contributes to student’s academic achievement. Here in Montreal, some schools are “banning” homework, following in the footsteps of world leaders in education such as Finland, whose students also have very little homework. Homework gets a lot of heat online, with some headlines reading “Is homework bad for kids?”, “Kids get 3 times too much homework” and “Does homework help or hinder learning?”.

After reading articles in education and peeking into some topics in neuroscience (brain science), I realized that perhaps we were misplacing our attention. What we really need to focus on is helping young children build their learning-related skills (brain-related skills/cognitive skills) in order to better prepare them for homework.

Homework helps students get better grades only as of late elementary school.

The majority of research studies suggest that doing homework regularly can help a student get better grades (Zimmerman and Kitsantas, 2005). However, it appears that homework given to younger children in lower elementary school levels may not be as beneficial (Cooper et al. 2006, Review of Educational Research). It seems that certain brain-related skills are often not developed enough in these younger students. This can hinder a child’s ability to successfully do homework and prevent them from developing positive behaviour towards homework as well. Underdeveloped skills in early elementary can lead to some students having to spend too much time doing homework, and this can lead to a risky path such as a child losing academic confidence, feeling that they “are not smart enough” or consequently losing motivation in school.

Parental involvement during early elementary is also crucial in helping children build a positive relationship with homework. With younger children, researchers found that parents tend to pay more attention to whether their child is advanced or lagging on a specific subject (i.e. math). This is in comparison to older students who are more independent during homework and a parent’s role is to review homework or help when their child requests it. Research has shown that when a child perceives a parent as being positively involved in their homework, they develop stronger internal motivation, which also promotes school success.

It is recommend that parents try to be aware of the following 4 qualities when doing homework with their child (Pomerantz et al. 2005, 2007):

1.     Autonomy support vs. control: Are you supporting your child in developing their own schedules for doing homework vs. are you making decisions without your child’s input.

2.     Process vs. person focus: Are you helping your child focus on the process of mastering the school work vs. are you emphasizing achievement.

3.     Positive vs. negative affect: Are you establishing a sense of connectedness with your child by maintaining positive affect (positive emotions and expression such as cheerfulness and enthusiasm) and intrinsic motivation (not using external rewards such as offering a gift or a candy if they complete their homework) vs. are you being hostile and critical when checking your child’s homework.

4.     Positive vs. negative beliefs about children’s potential: Are you trusting your child’s capabilities to do well vs. are you focusing on them avoiding complete failure.

The environment also plays a large role in helping a child succeed with homework. Distractions such as television, siblings, or parents talking or arguing around them can have a negative impact. Create a peaceful environment when your young child is doing homework (as much as possible!). Include them in creating a homework schedule. Ask them when they prefer doing homework and which assignment they would prefer to start with. Also, don’t forget to let them take breaks! A child’s ability to stay focused is about their age in minutes (for more information on this click here to read an article). If you are doing homework with a 7 year old and you notice they are not as focused after 10 minutes, let them get up and move around. You also don’t have to stay seated to do homework. They can stand at the table or sit on an exercise ball.

Learning-related skills that are still developing in early elementary school.

Homework, requires certain learning-related skills; skills that neuroscience research suggest are often weaker in early elementary school students since they are still being developed. Children are not born with these skills. The environment we create for them will encourage the development of these cognitive skills. Skills such as executive functions, self-regulation, intrinsic motivation and metacognitive skills.

Without taking the time to develop these skills, their can be consequences in their academic success later on. For instance, between the ages of 7 and 14 years old, those who scored more poorly on working memory tests (part of executive functions) scored below average on English, mathematics and Science national exams (Jarvis and Gathercole, 2003).

Here are the descriptions of brain related skills that are often under-developed in young elementary school students:

1.     Self-regulation is a skill that allows a child to regulate their emotions and behaviour during challenging situations.

2.     Executive functions are mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking and self-control. According to the Harvard University Center for Child Development, each are defined as:

·      Working memory governs our ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short periods of time.

·      Mental flexibility helps us to sustain or shift attention in response to different demands or to apply different rules in different settings.

·      Self-control enables us to set priorities and resist impulsive actions or responses.

3.     Intrinsic motivation is when a child is driven by internal reward rather than external rewards. This skill can help a student perform well with their homework and succeed in school since they have the drive to so.

4.     Delayed-gratification is when a child delays or resists temptation for an immediate reward or for a later reward. In essence, it is about self-control and being patient and this is a skill that some argue is the most important trait a child can have that in turn, will help them throughout their academic and personal life.

If you are interested in learning how to help your child develop these skills, stay tuned for an upcoming article!

Kindergarten to grade 3 is the perfect time for students to work on building learning-related skills

Between kindergarten and grade 3, children should focus on practicing reading during evenings as well as spending quality time with their family with the intention of building important learning-related skills. Parents should receive guidance (stay tuned for our upcoming article on this topic) in terms of what to do in order to help their child develop these learning-related skills. For example, instead of doing homework for 20-30 min every night, families with younger children should play games, such as checkers, Go Fish, memory, Dr. Eureka or Uno, which can help children develop skills such as: longer attention spans, planning, critical thinking, learning to wait for their turn, motivation and more. Not to mention that spending quality time as a family helps a child build a stronger bond and can help develop their self-confidence.

While working privately with young children, I became aware of their struggle with homework , especially in early elementary. These young students are tired from long days at school, their attention spans are shorter during the evening, they want to play since they have been in school all day and their parents are tired from their work day as well. When a child begins school, we should be nurturing their curiosity, their love for learning and helping them develop the right learning-related skills that will contribute to their success as students!

What Does a Montessori Elementary classroom look like?

Written by Sarah Adams, Montessori Teacher and owner of The Prepared Environment (@the_prepared_environment)

Vancouver, Canada

Westside Montessori in Vancouver ( @montessori_elementary )

Westside Montessori in Vancouver (@montessori_elementary)

"Monte-who?"..."Monte-what?"..."What is Montessori, anyways?"  I have been asked these questions many times in my life.  Have you heard about Montessori?  Most people have, even if they don’t know exactly what it is. 

I attended Montessori as a child (from ages 3-12), volunteered in a Montessori school throughout college and university, and have taught in a public Montessori elementary school since 2006.  I have spent most of my life in the Montessori world, however I often find it difficult to explain it in a clear and concise way…just because there is so much to say.

Montessori education is a system created by Dr. Maria Montessori.  Dr. Montessori was an Italian doctor born in 1870.  She challenged gender stereotypes of her time by being one of the first female students to attend medical school and become a doctor.  She developed an educational philosophy and method based on her research and observations and the findings of other revolutionary scientists and researchers.

The first school opened in a low-income district of Rome in 1906 and currently there are over 20,000 Montessori schools world-wide.  The Montessori method was (and still is) dramatically different from the traditional education system. 

It is possible to implement Montessori philosophy in any environment by following the child, learning about their development and needs and respecting the child as an individual that can reach their full potential with a prepared environment.  You might be curious about what an Elementary Montessori class looks like and how it is different from traditional education.

Here are some of the characteristics of a 6-12 Montessori Classroom:

1.    The Montessori classroom is set up to provide children with the right tools and environment so they can meet their full potential, have a love of learning and be a productive member of their community.

2.    The adults see the child as an individual and provide lessons for that child when appropriate.  Children are usually taught new concepts individually or in small groups.

Westside Montessori in Vancouver ( @montessori_elementary )

Westside Montessori in Vancouver (@montessori_elementary)

3.    The Montessori classroom encourages collaboration and not competition.  Children work at their own level, so the focus is on their own improvement instead of trying to keep up with other classmates.  Working with children of different ages helps the students to learn from others and be role models.  

4.    Independence, self-control, confidence and repetition are not only encouraged, but built into all lessons and materials.  Once a child is introduced to a new material, they are encouraged to work through a series of tasks individually (or with a classmate). 

5.    By using the thoughtfully-designed materials, children are able to concretely understand a concept before moving onto abstraction.  Montessori believed that we learn best through hands-on learning.  This is most obvious with the math materials.  The children learn what one, ten, one hundred, one thousand look and feel like through the Golden Bead materials.  They have a concrete understanding of quantity which helps lay the foundation for all future math concepts.

6.    In Montessori classrooms, children are usually grouped with different aged children (typically three grades are in one class).  Classrooms are child-centered, very different compared to the traditional classroom with the teacher at the front and children sitting in rows.  You might see children working on the floor, individually at a table, or with classmates.  There is usually choice in where to work.

Westside Montessori in Vancouver ( @montessori_elementary )

Westside Montessori in Vancouver (@montessori_elementary)

7.    There is an understanding and respect of children's psychological development and sensitive periods.  Montessori teachers learn about developmental stages, Planes of Development and how to prepare the classroom to optimize learning and concentration.

8.     The materials and lessons introduced have a purpose, build upon previous knowledge and usually have some form of control of error (so the child knows on their own if they have done it correctly.)  The materials are ideally made of natural products and are realistic. 

Click here to learn more!