One of my favorite activities for young students is
* * *
“What are you thankful for?” asked the teacher sitting in a circle on the floor with a group of 20 four- and five-year-old children.
A student blurted out, “What’s thankful?”
“Please raise your hand, Romell.”
His hand rose up like a shot as he repeated himself. “What is tankful? I mean thankful?”
The other students giggled. Romell, known for his short temper, gave his fellow students some serious mean-eye.
“Class, is it okay to make fun of people when they say a word the wrong way?”
“No, teacher,” chimed most of the 20 students.
“All right then. What do you say to your friend?”
“Sorry, Romell,” stated all but the loudest laughers.
“Now think about what you can do to make your friend feel better.”
Romell seemed appeased.
The word sorry in itself is not enough. In the classroom an act of kindness toward the offended party to make up for the offense was required. The question “What can you do to make your friend feel better?” made it easier for the young students to come up with a way to mend the hurt they caused.
“Does anyone else know what it means to be thankful?”
Another student raised her hand.
“Yes, Lara, what does it mean to be thankful?”
“Well, my brother didn’t eat all his dinner yesterday. I saw him give it to our dog, Ninja, when no one was looking.”
The teacher looked perplexed. “Lara, did you want to tell us what thankful means?”
“No teacher. I don’t know what that is.”
Four and five-year olds, given an opportunity to speak, will talk about anything—not necessarily on topic. The teacher opted to answer as group time was almost over.
“Being thankful is like being happy. What makes you thankful also makes you feel happy. So, think about what makes you happy.”
Ten students raised their hands, stretching as if it pained them to sit in one place.
“Please, don’t tell me now. See me after group time and let me know one at a time.”
Each child chose a different colored piece of construction paper in the shape of a very large feather. A featherless construction paper turkey had been stapled to a classroom wall.
The children were asked to choose a feather and draw a picture on the feather of what makes them happy/thankful. Extra traced feathers were available for students to cut by themselves if they wished.
What makes me feel happy?
- Bruce: “My daddy. He cooks good pizza.”
- Angelica: “Toys make me happy.”
- Maverick: “My Auntie Jo. She’s nice to me.”
- Lara: “My mom. She makes me happy.”
- April: “My dad. He makes funny faces.”
- Diego: “My mom. Her goes to the store and buys me things.”
- Julius: “My grandma. She makes me food.”
- Abijah: “My daddy. He tells me funny jokes and he always laughs and dances.”
- Romell: “My dad. He gives me cereal. He makes me happy when he cooks.”
- Alberto: “Papi. He plays with me.”
- Chris: “Mommy. She plays cars with me.”
- Sam: “My dad. He lets me play PX.”
- Valerie: “My sister. She smile and fix my hair.”
- Rene: “Dad. My dad plays X-Box with me.”
- Jake: “My mom. She cooks good food.”
- Hailey: “My brother. He always makes me laugh and he does funny stuff.”
- Deja: “My mama. She cooks dinner for me.”
- Denise: “Mom. She gives me a big hug.”
- Sebastian: “My dad. He plays wrestling with me and baseball with me.”
- Delilah: “My mama. She plays with me and tickles me. That makes me laugh.”
This activity is also a favorite of the families.
I’ve used the “thankful feathers project” to assess children’s language and fine motor skills for many years in all socioeconomic strata, in four different states. I have found children to be universally thankful for the affection and attention found within their families. The little things we do for our children make the biggest impact. Playful interaction with family members ranks considerably higher than toys.