Giving thanks plays a prominent role during the fall holidays, but it’s a practice that our children (really, all of us) can benefit from all year. As part of our Tinkergarten program, each Fall we invite kids to reflect on and express gratitude. And, we start by exploring gratitude for the marvelous trees around us. Then, we use sticks and printed gratitude leaves to create our own “thankful tree” to express the gratitude we feel for all that we share.
Read on for ideas or click here to try the full Thankful Tree lesson as a free trial of Tinkergarten Home!
Step 1: Watch the Tinkergarten Home "Thankful Tree" video lesson.
Hop into your Tinkergarten dashboard to watch the "Thankful Tree" video lesson. Kids can watch how Meghan and other explorers learn about the marvelous trees around them and show thanks, then get inspired to create their own thankful trees!
Not yet signed up? Click here to sign up or to try a free Tinkergarten Home lesson.
Step 2: Get to know a tree!
Trees provide kids with much of the wonder they find in the natural world, and they can inspire curiosity, connection and gratitude in all of us.
Start to lean into all that trees can inspire for kids by taking a walk together to a special tree in your yard, neighborhood or a local park. When you arrive at your tree, let kids know that this is your special friend tree. Invite kids to join you in noticing and appreciating what is special about your tree. You can also use the prompts in these Get to Know a Tree Cards for ideas.
Read more about why trees are our greatest teachers in this blog post.
Step 3: Gather and prep materials to make a thankful tree.
Identify a bucket, can or large vase to use as the base of your tree. Head outdoors and gather stones or gravel to fill and stabilize your base. Or, for a festive twist, fill a glass jar or vase with fresh cranberries.
Next, you'll need "branches" for your tree. Gather a handful of sticks from the yard to stick into the weighted bucket. Gather a few fresh, fallen leaves, too.
Print and cut out these downloadable thankful leaves or create your own by cutting colorful paper into the shape of leaves and petals. Poke holes in your leaves so they can easily slip on your branches. You can also thread twine or string through each leaf to hang them on your branches.
Step 4: Invite ideas and share gratitude.
Talk about your walk to your special tree and share why you are thankful for your tree friend. Wonder, what else are we thankful for? What are the gifts from nature that you are thankful for? What special objects are you thankful for? Who are the people you are thankful for? What do they do for you that you feel thankful for? Write the ideas you share down on your gratitude leaves. You can also invite kids to draw their ideas on their leaves.
Step 5: Build your thankful tree.
Wonder, “Do you you think we could make a thankful tree to hold all of of our thankful leaves?” Work together to arrange your sticks in your container. Then, invite kids to stick their gratitude leaves onto the branches. Kids can add fallen leaves and other nature treasures to their branches to help decorate it, too.
Step 6: Share gratitude and add to your tree.
Choose a spot to display your tree and lay out additional thankful leaves and pens so you can continue to add to it.
If your children are ready, encourage them to play teacher and explain how the tree works to everyone who will participate in making the tree.
Once the tree feels ready, read out the things everyone is grateful for on the tree. If you have a signal for “I agree,” share affirmation for the various things shared, helping kids learn to be active listeners and reinforcing all of the goodness shared on the tree.
Want more ideas for bringing gratitude into your family's routine? Try some of these:
Thank the Moon: Try some of these ways to help kids slow down, connect with the moon, and show appreciation for the light that shines above us.
Grateful for Earth: Kids can throw a party for the Earth, create a community nature display, take small steps to protect the planet and more!
Cooking With Gratitude: Cook a recipe together as a family, taking time to show gratitude for the people, plants and animals that contributed to your food.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Children and adults alike receive a myriad of benefits from practicing gratitude. Taking time to do something special and symbolic together reinforces family values and the importance of connecting and sharing with one another. If this becomes a tradition, the positive effects will persist and grow. Finally, helping kids spend real, quality time with trees helps them feel more grounded and empathetic as people and more prepared to protect both these amazing plants and the planet that supports us all.
By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What are schema and why should you care?
There are patterns of repeatable behavior known as "schema" that you can notice in your child's play during early childhood (~18months-age 5 or 6). No matter where you are in the world, these same schema are exhibited by kids. Experts believe that when kids repeat these patterns in different situations, kids develop physically and cognitively. In turn, they are better able to understand, navigate and interact with their worlds, resulting in transformative learning. Kids naturally become absorbed in repeating these patterns, and practice with schema is highly engaging for them.
“Children’s schemas can be viewed as part of their motivation for learning, their insatiable drive to move, represent, discuss, question and find out.”—Professor Cathy Nutbrown, UK
How are schema useful to parents and teachers?
First, it just feels great to better understand your little ones. Once you notice these patterns, your child's seemingly random and (occasionally frustratingly) repetitive actions suddenly appear elegant and purposeful. Best of all, once you realize that they are really exploring a certain schema or two, you can pick activities for them that give them the opportunity to practice them, increasing their engagement and extending their learning.
Does every kid get absorbed in schema?
These are universal patterns, but different kids will engage in schema in different ways. For example, some kids dabble in schema, engaging in several at any given time. Others move from one schema to another over time. Others still stay working on a single schema for years.
How should you support your child as they exhibit schema?
Exploration with various schema is built into Tinkergarten activities. It's also interesting to notice how some of the best kids' toys enable children to practice with schema.
To get started, check out the most common schema and see if you recognize these patterns in your child's behavior. If you do, check out our activities that help to extend his or her learning by supporting that schema. For fun, mention these to your friends as you watch their children at play. They'll be in awe of your observation skills, any maybe even refer to you as the toddler-whisperer?!
The scoop on common schema:
You may have noticed that your child seems to spend lots of time picking up objects, putting them into a container, perhaps only to transfer them to another container or dump out the container and start again. Your child may also simply love to haul around hefty things (e.g. logs, books, blocks). Kids may also love to fill up wagons, carts, strollers, etc. so they can "transport" objects or people around.
So many children become engrossed in spinning around and around to the point of dizziness…who hasn’t?! Kids who are focused on rotation/circulation spin themselves or become fixated on watching things that rotate, like a wheel, or the clothes dryer. That is the magic behind rolling down a hill.
Many kids go through a phase or just always seem to like moving in straight lines. They probably like to walk along the cracks in the sidewalk, balance on the curb, walk along a log, climb up and down ladders or whiz down slides. Some can't get enough of those swings. They also love to throw, drop, roll and toss all kinds of things.
Kids like to order, arrange and position objects or themselves. They may arrange blocks, cars, rocks or other objects in lines, rows, piles or patterns. Drawing, painting and sculpture work likely includes lines and patterns as well. Lining up may be a favorite activity, and where friends and family stand, sit or walk may be of particular interest.
Kids like to cover, wrap or enclose things and themselves. For example, your child may hide themselves under the bed covers, love to wrap up in a towel after the bath, or use a single crayon to cover a whole piece of paper during art time. You may also notice a time when your kids continue to find places to tuck objects or themselves out of sight (aggrrr, not the keys again!). They may love to sit in tunnels, climb into empty boxes, hide up in trees, build forts, or squirrel away in a little area under the stairs. Or, they may love to tuck treasures away into boxes, bags, pockets or hidden nooks around the yard.
A child might spend a great deal of time connecting things to one another. You may notice that they love to join the train tracks together, link LEGOs in long chains, build “fences” out of blocks, each block touching its neighbor. They also love to use tape, glue, string, and other things that connect objects.
Kids like to transform the shape, feel and look of things and themselves. You'll notice this when they are dressing up in costumes or putting on make up. These are your potion-makers and demolition crew, who may add milk to their mashed potatoes, make potions in the backyard, knock down buildings and towers, and mix all of the play-doh colors together...in short, they can be a big sister’s nightmare!
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!
What is Teamwork?
Teamwork is the ability to be both an individual contributor and a supportive member of a group. Not easy for little ones, but never too early to start learning how. Although the notion of teamwork seems rather self explanatory, the combination of skills that are required for kids to effectively work on a team is rather complex. People can work effectively in a group when they have a sense of their own strengths and needs, the ability to understand the needs and motivations of others, the ability to agree and focus on a common goal, and the capacity to adjust their personal needs for the good of the group. Needless to say, young kids are too young to master these skills, but they can make tremendous progress if we give them genuine experience with teamwork and help them develop the foundations that underlie this more complex set of skills.
On a most basic level, kids start to build teamwork skills as they learn to negotiate and share limited resources. Anyone who has kids know that these skills do not come naturally, but are developed with age and practice. Kids who have experience sharing and working in groups without the dominant management of parent or authority figure (e.g. the good old pick-up game of kick-the-can that was managed only by the kids in the neighborhood) get much more opportunity to develop the self awareness and skills needed for effective collaboration. The more chances we give kids to feel the pleasure in sharing and giving, the more quickly they become effective at sharing. In addition, when we model how to set a goal and allow kids to practice working towards that goal, we model the behavior they will eventually adopt as their won. Finally, when they experience success as a member of a team, they develop a lasting sense of the power of teamwork and the motivation to start to value a team over themselves.
Why does it matter?
Collaboration makes the cut on nearly every list of top 21st-century skills—and it has become not just a goal but a requirement for most jobs. Technology increasingly enables people to work together with people who differ by geography, culture and mindset, and businesses and institutions worldwide expect employees to work effectively in both face-to-face and in virtual teams. Those who collaborate effectively will not only be effective workers but will be poised to help find solutions to the increasingly complicated challenges this young generation will face.
Further, in most schools from elementary level up, kids get more out of the curriculum if they know how to work well in groups, and this trend of increased peer-to peer-teaching and learning is only gaining ground in older school years. Research even shows that how well young children solve simple problems in groups predicts how they will transition to and fare in formal schooling.