Helping Kids Develop an Attitude of Gratitude with Fun and Engaging Activities
Updated: Nov 16
Have you ever had that head-scratch moment when you're trying to explain what "being grateful" really means to a child? I mean, it sounds simple to us grownups, but breaking it down for younger kids can be a challenge. Simply put, being grateful, or having gratitude, means realizing and appreciating the good stuff we have in our lives, whether big or small.
Now, let's talk about why gratitude is a big deal. Teaching kids to find the silver lining isn't just about manners or saying 'thank you.' It's about shaping their outlook on life, helping them be happier and even more resilient by paying attention to and choosing helpful thoughts.
In this blog post we're covering the oh-so-important reasons for teaching kids how to practice gratitude, we’ll spill the beans on the perks of starting this journey early on, we’ll explore how mindfulness plays a role in a gratitude practice. And the cherry on top? We've got a lineup of 5 super fun gratitude exercises for kids, including games and activities that will have your kids have fun, think, and appreciate.
Gratitude in Action
Alright, let's talk about a student that I’ll call “Jamie.” Back in the day, Jamie was your typical 5th grader—always glued to the latest video game, obsessed with skateboarding, and a champ at rolling his eyes at, well, everything. But Jamie had a knack for focusing on the downside. Rainy days ruined his entire week and a bad test score meant the end of the world.
His school counselor started a gratitude journal project where every student was supposed to jot down one good thing that happened to them each day. Sounds simple, right? But for Jamie, it was like asking him to read hieroglyphics. Then, one day Jamie couldn’t find his favorite game controller. His little sister, Ellie, lent him her controller. Jamie realized, "Hey, that was kind of sweet."
Over time and slowly, this "Good Things Journal" began to fill up: from high scores in games and surprise pizza nights to simply having a good laugh with friends. And guess what? Jamie started to change. Those rainy days? Perfect for indoor skate parks. Bad test scores? Just a sign to ask for help.
Seeing the good didn't mean Jamie's life was all sunshine and rainbows, but it sure helped him ride out the storms better. By the time spring rolled around, Jamie wasn't just skating better; he was feeling much happier in his life, all thanks to a bit of gratitude.
Why is it Important to Teach Gratitude to Kids?
Gratitude is pretty simple. It's all about noticing and valuing the good things in our lives, whether that's your friend's joke that had you laughing or just a nice coffee on a rough day. But why should we teach gratitude to kids? Well, it's more than just getting them to say "thanks" without being nudged. It's about teaching kids to see and really appreciate both the small things and the big moments.
When kids learn to be grateful, they tend to handle tough times better, bounce back from setbacks more quickly, and just generally feel good about life. Plus, knowing how to be thankful helps them sustain strong friendships. Starting kids off with a grateful mindset early on is a way to help set them up for success later in life.
Are you wondering what are the benefits of teaching gratitude to kids? Think of gratitude like a muscle; the earlier and more often we flex it, the stronger and more natural it becomes. Starting young means kids grow up seeing the world with a 'glass half full' mentality. Early gratitude habits can boost their mood, improve their relationships (yep, it can help with fewer squabbles!), and even help them handle the rollercoaster of emotions they’ll inevitably face as they grow.
Teaching kids how to be grateful is about teaching them to be aware of what’s going on around them. This awareness will also benefit them in other parts of their lives too. And hey, a grateful heart is a happy heart, right? So, while teaching English and math is fantastic, let’s add some mindful awareness of what they’re thankful for into the mix too.
How Mindfulness and Gratitude Are Like PB&J
Wondering how are mindfulness and gratitude connected? Well, have you ever noticed how some things just go better together? Like peanut butter and jelly, or cookies and milk? Well, let me tell you, mindfulness and gratitude are kind of like that dynamic duo too.
Being mindful is all about being present. Like, really tuning into the moment without your mind wandering off to that awkward thing you said three weeks ago. Now, when you're truly present, you start noticing the little gems in your day – like that barista who nailed your coffee order or the perfect playlist that set the vibe for your morning drive. This is where gratitude sneaks in.
By being mindful, you're already setting up a stage to notice things to be grateful for. You start thinking about all the cool moments that make your day special. And guess what? Those thankful thoughts are helpful thoughts. They’re like an instant mood booster, making you feel comfortable and good inside. So that’s why mindfulness and gratitude are the ultimate feel-good tag team. Now let's dive into 5 gratitude activities for kids?
5 Fun Gratitude Games and Activities for Kids
1. Gratitude Journals
You can start a gratitude journal easily by encouraging children to write down or draw one thing they're thankful for each day. Have them use stickers, glitter pens, or collage to make it more fun and vibrant. A lot of kids can feel writer’s block so using sentence-starter gratitude prompts like these will help them get started. I think it’s useful to have kids share what they’re grateful for with each other too, to help generate commonalities and shared ideas. Encouraging kids to reflect using these prompts will not only help instill gratitude but also spark their creativity and observational skills.
A piece of technology I’m grateful for is…
A food I am grateful for is...
A person in school who made me smile today is...
My favorite part of today was...
A toy or game I really enjoy and am thankful for is...
Something in nature that I appreciate is...
A song or story that makes me happy is...
Someone who helps me and I'm grateful for is...
A place I love to go to and am thankful for is...
Something I learned today that I'm excited about is...
A game I am thankful for is...
I've got these super cute gratitude journal covers as a freebie for you! All you have to do is subscribe to my free SEL resource library at the top of this page or here. Once you opt-in, you'll get on my email list and unlock my SEL resource library! I suggest using a personal email, rather than a work email. If you don't get the automatic email check your promo/spam folders.
2. Play Thankful Toss and Talk
Pass around a ball and when someone catches it, they can name something they are grateful for in the category you call out. I love to use o-balls for catching games because they’re lightweight and easier to catch. This is very helpful for children with gross motor difficulties, or those who might feel self-conscious about missing the ball.
You’ll call out things like:
Name a place you are grateful for
Name a food you are grateful for
Name a person you are grateful for
Name a book you are grateful for
Name a toy you are grateful for
Name a show you are grateful for
3. Create a Classroom Gratitude Jar
Journals are fantastic, but if you're looking for a tactile, visual, or more communal way to remind your students of the positive things, try out a Gratitude Jar. This simple yet impactful activity can become a cherished classroom or family routine. You can even read the book The Gratitude Jar, by Kartina Liu before getting started.
Setting Up Your Gratitude Jar:
Choose Your Jar: Find a jar that appeals to you, be it a simple mason jar or a decorative one. Place it somewhere easily accessible in your classroom or home.
Decorate It: Personalize your jar with ribbons, stickers, or paint. You can even label it with 'Gratitude Jar' or 'Jar of Joy.'
Find Your Notes: Get some small note paper, post-its, or even scraps of colored paper. Keep a pencil nearby so students can jot down their thankful thoughts. Make sure you also write down what you’re grateful for and add it to the jar!
The Daily Habit: Every day, take a moment to think about something that brought a smile to your face or warmed your heart. It doesn't have to be grand—sometimes the smallest moments hold the most meaning. Write it down and fold it into your Gratitude Jar.
The Big Reveal: Set a specific time whether it is weekly or monthly, to sit down and revisit the notes of gratitude as a community. Empty the jar and read through your collection together. You'll be surprised at how the little joys accumulate over time, creating so much positivity.
Reading the notes together makes it more of a shared experience than journaling is. Listening to what others are thankful for can help broaden your perspective and deepen your appreciation for the simple pleasures around you.
Over time, the Gratitude Jar becomes more than just an activity; it's a tangible reminder of the abundance in life. On challenging days, just looking at a jar brimming with colorful, positive notes can provide a little bit of comfort and a gentle nudge to shift one's attention to the positive.
4. Play the Gumball Gratitude Game!
Gumball Gratitude is a super fun digital and print game where kids will learn how to choose an attitude of gratitude, even in frustrating or disappointing situations. Children wiill practice identifying "icky sticky thoughts" or choosing an attitude of gratitude with this fun Gumball Gratitude digital and printable activity set.
✔ A self-checking digital Google Slides™ game with 30 scenarios perfect for telehealth, smartboards, or distance learning
✔ 60 printable scenario cards
✔ A printable board game with dice, spinner, and cards (in color and black and white)
✔ 2 Sorting mats
✔ Rules for playing a game visual poster
✔ Gratitude worksheets
The prompts will lead to some great discussions about choosing helpful thoughts when faced with disappointing situations. This Gumball Gratitude game: ➜ Helps kids identify and sort thoughts as being either grateful or ungrateful.
➜ Is a great introduction or review of basic CBT concepts.
➜ Addresses one of the first steps in cognitive restructuring or reframing.
➜ Boost self-awareness, positive thinking, and self-confidence!
Social-emotional learning competencies addressed include self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision-making. This resource can be used in distance learning OR in person to enhance emotional regulation and teach social-emotional learning skills.
This game can be played through Google Slides™ and is aligned to Session 11 in the book Skills for Big Feelings: A Guide for Teaching Relaxation, Regulation, and Coping Techniques by Casey O’Brien Martin. Please note this is a companion resource to the book, but the slides review the concept, and so this can also be used as a stand-alone resource.
5. Make a Thankful Tree: Crafting with a Side of Gratitude!
The Thankful Tree is a fun activity for teaching gratitude to kids. It not only gets those creative juices flowing but also reminds kids (and let's be honest, us grownups too) about all the cool things we have to be grateful for.
Pick Your Canvas: Now, you can go big or keep it cute and cozy. Got a door, big blank wall, or a bulletin board? Great! You've got the space to go for it with a big tree. Only have a single sheet of paper or a notebook page? No worries, it'll look just as awesome.
Sketch That Trunk: Draw or craft a tree trunk. Remember, it doesn't need to be Picasso-level; it's all about the fun!
Leaves or Ornaments: First, choose your shapes. You can create the leaves or ornaments on colored paper, scrapbook paper, shiny craft paper, or even bits of fabric. Cut them into shapes - like leaves, or even stars or hearts.
Write it Out: Now, instead of blank leaves or ornaments, we're going to write down things we're grateful for on each shape piece. It could be "Mom's spaghetti", "My silly little dog," or even, "That sunny spot in my room.”
Attach: Once you've written down something you're thankful for, stick or pin it to your tree. Watching it 'grow' with gratitude is such a treat!
Wrapping it up: As the days go by and your tree becomes fuller, it's like a visual shoutout to all the fabulous things in life. And hey, on a rough day, glancing at that tree can be like the mini pep-talk you didn't know you needed. Because reading others' gratitude notes can be pretty heartwarming!
Rolling Up the Gratitude Rug and Signing Off!
Alright, we've journeyed together from decoding what 'being grateful' means for kiddos to actually seeing gratitude in action (cheers, Jamie!). We've whipped up our gratitude muscles, made the connection between mindfulness and gratitude (the dynamic duo), and even got our hands crafty with some gratitude activities and games. But here's the thing: the real magic starts now. It's about taking these insights, activities, and that burst of inspiration and weaving them into the fabric of our daily lives. Because let’s face it, the kids around us are looking up to us. Every 'thank you,' every giggle over a gratitude journal entry, and every leaf on that thankful tree, it’s all adding up. So, let's get out there and remember – it's the little moments that can make the biggest difference.
If you're looking for these adorable gratitude journal covers, I have them to share as a freebie for you! All you have to do is subscribe to my free SEL resource library at the top of this page or here. Once you opt-in, you'll get on my email list and unlock my SEL resource library! I suggest using a personal email, rather than a work email. If you don't get the automatic email check your promo/spam folders.
Please connect with me over on Instagram. I’d love to hear from you about how these gratitude activities went for you. I’d also love for you share your experiences with teaching kids how to practice gratitude and ways that you consistently integrate gratitude exercises for kids into your daily life.