Celebrating holidays with children often stirs up images of paper crafts involving glue and glitter, but hands-on Montessori activities that engage a child’s senses and are relevant to a child’s life are fun and more meaningful.
During the month of November, many children celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving with a focus on thankfulness and gratitude. The Montessori Gratitude Jar is an activity that can be explored all year long to create an awareness and curiosity in a child about showing gratitude to others and what it means to be thankful.
A Montessori Language Activity
The Gratitude Jar is a language development activity in many Montessori environments that encourages a child to think about what he is thankful for and then communicate it in written words. A beautiful container, blank slips of paper and a pencil are the only materials needed to create a gratitude jar. In a classroom setting, the activity will be first introduced to a small group. The teacher will invite a small group of interested children to first listen to a children’s book about gratitude, such as The Secret Stone, (Konnected Kidz Publishing, 2009) a picture book co-authored by Montessori teacher, Kathleen Roberts.
At the end of the story, the teacher will sit thoughtfully for a moment and then state what she is thankful for, take a slip of paper, write it down and place it in the Gratitude Jar. She will then invite the children in the group to do the same. Depending on the age of the child, the child may want to write out his own slip or ask for assistance from an older child or adult.
The Gratitude Jar is then placed permanently in the language area of the classroom and is then available to all children as an everyday activity. Any child may add a slip as he discovers more things he is grateful for or may choose to read through the slips that have already been added to the jar. As the jar becomes too full, slips are removed and placed into a memory book and placed in the classroom library for everyone to read and enjoy.
The Gratitude Jar is an ideal activity for a child who is reluctant to write or who has difficulty thinking of something to write about. Children love to invite classroom visitors to add a personalized slip to the Gratitude Jar and include them as a part of the classroom community. The Gratitude Jar container and colors of the slips of paper may be changed throughout the year to keep interest high all year long.
A Family Gratitude Jar
In a home setting, a Gratitude Jar with blank slips of paper and a pencil are placed in a prominent place, usually in the kitchen for a year long whole family activity. A written expression of gratitude from each family member may be placed into the jar as often as desired. Throughout the year, visit the library to find other age-appropriate books to read together that focus on gratitude and thankfulness, such as Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed (Gibbs Smith, 2002) by Emily Pearson or I’m Thankful Each Day! (Ideals Publications, 2001) by P.K. Hallinan.
On Thanksgiving or another special day, many families remove all the slips and read them aloud prior to sitting down to enjoy a meal together. Parents and children alike love to read through each slip and relive the memories of the past year together.The slips for the year are then glued or taped into a family memory journal and made into a keepsake. The Gratitude Jar starts anew the next day, ready for new feelings of thankfulness and gratitude to be recorded.
Showing Gratitude Can Lead to a Happier Life
According to Robert Emmons, the author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007), scientific research has shown that gratitude is one of the strongest contributors to happiness and meaning in life. A Gratitude Jar creates an awareness in a child that there are things to be thankful and grateful everyday and helps to develop the skills to communicate gratitude.
The ability to feel true gratitude is a process. As a young child is exposed to others expressing thankfulness and gratitude for the people and things in life through the use of a Gratitude Jar, it becomes a part of everyday life. Soon, feelings of thankfulness become automatic and the written gratitude is replaced with immediate thankful verbal communication with another person. As true gratitude is expressed to another, an honest feeling of happiness is achieved for both people.
A Montessori Gratitude Jar may be created once a child begins speaking. A very young child can show gratitude and begin expressing it either through pictures and place it into the Gratitude Jar. Older children enjoy discovering new things for which to be thankful and to write it down and place in the jar. This hands-on Montessori language activity helps to develop a child’s vocabulary and communication skills in way that is engaging and relevant to a child’s everyday life.
Parents and teachers also model gratitude everyday and write out slips to place in the Gratitude Jar because a child who sees gratitude and thankfulness expressed everyday will naturally follow along and participate when he is r