Ask a second grader to name something for which they are thankful, and their response is typically along the lines of, “I am thankful for my Xbox because I can play Fortnite on it,” or “I’m thankful for my toys so I don’t get bored.” Ask an adult to name something for which they are thankful, and you might hear something similar.
I am a second grade teacher at Rockwern Academy, and, using a 30 Days of Thankfulness calendar, my students and I share and log a specific person, item, or activity for which we are thankful every school day in November. I love this activity because it provides children an opportunity to have their voices heard while sharing their feelings and, with guidance, reflect on what they feel gratitude towards and why. I also love this activity because it provides me the opportunity to reflect and practice gratitude as well.
As soon as they can speak, children are ingrained with the habit of offering thanks in response to a kind action or gift from another. At school, we teach students to say “thank you” when someone holds the door open or helps them up.
Even for adults, giving thanks is often in return for a favor, gift, or compliment. We automatically say “thank you” after someone says “Bless you,” “I like your shirt,” or gives us a gift. Giving thanks becomes a reflex—a quick word and walk away, continue on.
However, thankfulness and gratitude should not be reflexes; they should be feelings and connections. The Hebrew phrase for gratitude is hakarat hatov, meaning literally “recognizing the good,” which creates space for noticing and showing gratitude for the world, even beyond human interaction.
That’s why in my small second grade circle, the students take turns sharing and asking each other questions about their responses to the daily 30 Days of Thankfulness exercise.
November 13: Something Old
“I am thankful for my pillow.”
“Because my mommy gave it to me.”
“Is it special?”
“Because it makes me feel safe.”
During this real-life exchange, what could have been a quick, six-word response became a conversation about gratitude. By taking the time and asking questions, a child was able to connect feeling safe with her special pillow and express thanks.
November 7: Scent
“I like the smell of spring.”
“What does spring smell like?”
“Flowers and grass.”
“Do you like spring?”
“Yes! The sun makes me feel happy.”
In this season of short days and long nights, staying positive and grateful can be a hard. I challenge you to take a moment every day—even if just for thirty seconds—to reflect on something you are thankful for that can bring light to your day and make you feel happy.
When school returns from Thanksgiving Break, the students will have five more entries for their logs: charity, song, gift, something at home, and what they are most thankful for. Though our Thirty Days of Thankfulness activity will be over, the students’ hearts will be full of gratitude and their minds will be ready to share it with the world!
Lizzie Birckhead was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio but lived in Cleveland while attending Baldwin Wallace University. Lizzie and her partner, James, live in Pleasant Ridge and enjoy spending time together walking around and exploring their neighborhood. Lizzie is a second grade teacher at Rockwern Academy and the founder and creative director of Six Points Collective. When Lizzie isn’t teaching or planning events, she enjoys traveling, going to concerts, and hanging out and laughing with her family.