Elementary School Gratitude Projects


So, your students are going to create art inspired by gratitude. What if they aren’t grateful? Or, what if, the student has a hard life or has something difficult they are dealing with right now? There are many reasons that students may struggle with gratitude.

Start by defining gratitude. I like the definition of gratitude and its benefits from Psychology Today:

“Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for  what one has—as opposed to, say, a consumer-oriented emphasis  on what one wants or needs—and is currently receiving a great deal of attention  as a facet of positive psychology. Gratitude is what gets poured into the glass to make it half full. Studies show that gratitude not only can be deliberately cultivated but can increase levels of well-being and happiness among those who  do cultivate it.  In addition, grateful thinking—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, and empathy.”

There are real, tangible benefits to being the kind of person who is grateful. Gratitude is worth cultivating, and that attitude permeates the thought of giving.

To prepare for your art project, there are a couple of tangible suggestions I have for starting right now cultivating the sense of gratitude:

1. Keep a Happy (gratitude) Journal.

 Research studies have shown that keeping a 5 minute a day gratitude journal will increase your long term well being more than winning a million dollars in the lottery.

Talk about this with students, set a timer, and keep a joy journal every day for the next 2 weeks. Ask older students to plot their mood to see if they notice any change in their own outlook on life. When it is time to create your art, review your journal for patterns of things that bring you joy. Those are great targets for gratitude.

Benefits: This activity can have students writing, journaling, and improving their mood at the same time. You can also encourage parents to join in this activity and educate them on this.

Successful organizations show gratitude, so do successful classrooms. Gratitude shouldn't be a secret. Help children share a word of thank you with each other and with those who serve and help them every day.

Successful organizations show gratitude, so do successful classrooms. Gratitude shouldn’t be a secret. Help children share a word of thank you with each other and with those who serve and help them every day.

2. Show gratitude to each other

I’ve read that it takes 7 compliments to counterbalance 1 criticism. In a recent human resources blog, I read that the highest performing teams have a ratio of 5.6 or almost 6 compliments for every negative one. (The lowest have .36 or almost 3 negative comments for every positive one.)

My children all have kept an activity from elementary school where every student gave one genuine compliment for every other student. They typed them up and put a picture of each student in front (with classmates behind) with a title like “why we’re thankful for ___ (Suzie or Johnny or insert name there.) The teacher should add one there as well.

Benefits: This activity helps students show gratitude towards each other and to intentionally say thank you and can have an impact on the whole class, particularly in helping them appreciate the strengths of each child.

3. Show gratitude to others who serve

There are so many people who do so much for kids at the school. Showing gratitude to each person on staff in meaningful ways can make a difference. You can start off by asking students to give another a genuine verbal compliment and discussing the response they received.

Then, you can level up and have students write thank you notes, cards, or have them use their art as a form of recognition and thank you to those who encourage and serve them.  You can also combine this with #youmatter activities.

Benefits: The entire school begins to be reminded to be grateful for one another.

4. Show gratitude to parents and family

Students often take their caregivers for granted. Encourage students to take time to write parents a note or to list all of the things they are grateful for from their parents. Use these thoughts to inspire artwork designed to enhance the thanksgiving experience.

Benefits: strengthen the home/school connection and encourage parents to show gratitude to their children as well.

5. Plan a thank you party

Plan a thank you party for Thanksgiving centered around saying thank you to heroes among us. Include your artwork and a time of thanks to those who do so much to help kids.

Benefits: Make meaning as part of your thanksgiving party.

Plan your art project with a gratitude theme

If you’re looking for art ideas, then peruse, but remember that often kids only need the materials and time and they’ll do the rest to create the art. With a basis of understanding gratitude and the types of things they are grateful for, you’ll need to prepare for your art project. There are two places I recommend for your planning.

Kindergarten through Third Grade

Hold Gratitude Story Time once a week, during which students and teachers can share stories of kindness from their lives. Students could practice writing and drawing skills by preparing their stories before and during class. There could also be an interactive discussion afterwards, including brainstorming about how the class could perform a kindness activity, reflecting about how Gratitude has made a difference and scanning the news for types of Gratitude stories.

Put a large blank banner in the entryway to the school and invite students from all grade levels, teachers, administrators, parents and other community members to write their Gratitude stories on it. Students can then present the finished banner to the principal, display it at a local establishment or post it in the classroom as a reminder of the positive effects that Gratitude has on all people.

Put up “Gratitude Wall” signs at the entrances to your school and classroom to remind people to remember to practice Random Acts of Gratitude.

Hold a “Gratitude is Kind Card Day.” Everyone in the class writes something nice about someone else on a card. Distribute the cards and spend time reading what others wrote.

Have the students write a kindness note to all relatives and special friends letting them know why they are so special.

Start a Random Acts of Gratitude Club and commit to doing at least one random act of Gratitude per week. Tell the class of your activities and outcomes.

Have your principal start each day with a reading about Gratitude over the intercom.

Have classrooms create a Gratitude kindness quilt for display at the school, in a shopping mail or at the mayor’s office. Each student draws a kindness picture on a patch and then asks a group of parent volunteers to assemble the quilt. If multiple quilts are made, they can be distributed to children’s hospitals and homeless shelters.

Have the students create an alphabetical list of easy Kindness activities together. For instance:

A: I pet a friendly Animal.

B: I Brought my laundry to the washroom.

C: I helped a person Carry something.

…X: I gave someone in my family an eXtra hug.

Then make up a Gratitude page on bright paper with the A – Z activities listed on it. As the students complete each Gratitude activity, they can tell about it and punch out that letter with a hole punch (with help if needed). When the students punch out their letters completely, they get their names on a bulletin board with perhaps a quote from them about why Gratitude is important or about how their Gratitude activities made them feel.

Start a “sticker campaign” to spread Gratitude. Staff members and teachers can pick up stickers each Monday as they sign in, then give them to kids they observe doing a Random Act of Kindness, telling them exactly what they did to earn the sticker. The kids can them give their stickers to someone else in the community that they see committing a Random Act of Kindness.

Make individual “check lists” for students during Gratitude Week encouraging each student to complete some or all of the random acts of Gratitude gestures listed. Activities could include: picking up litter, smiling and saying thank you to the bus driver and doing anything else that is kind.

Try a “Pizza Gratitude Kids” event, where each child gets a Gratitude pizza divided into sections. When they do a random act of kindness for someone, they get that person’s signature on that one section. When all kids in the class have completed their Gratitude pizzas, they get a pizza party.

Put photos of kind acts in hearts on classroom or hallway walls. After a few months of display, donate the display to local hospitals or shelters.


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