From the moment we put that big bird in the oven till the last of the leftovers are gone, the focus of Thanksgiving is usually food. But most of us would like to move beyond the turkey and teach our children what it means to be thankful.
The Bible tells us to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” and to “enter his gates with thanksgiving” (Psalm 107:1, Psalm 100:4). Yet that attitude is often lost in our “I want more” culture. Thus, encouraging thankfulness in children is no small task. The Thanksgiving season (October in Canada, November in the United States) provides an ideal opportunity to nurture gratitude in your family. When children understand what it means to be grateful, they begin to develop an awareness of all that God has given them, as well as a sense of contentment.
The following ideas can help you cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving in your kids.
- Tell a story. Children of all ages love stories. Take advantage of their natural interest by using Scripture stories to reinforce the importance of gratitude.
- Act it out. Read the story of the 10 lepers (Luke 17:11–19). Remind your children that Jesus was pleased with the one man who returned to give thanks for being healed. Provide rags for bandages, and let your children play the roles of the lepers and Jesus. Let them dramatize the healing, with all of them rushing off while only one returns.
- Make noise. Look up the story of the Israelites’ celebration after Jerusalem’s walls were rebuilt (Nehemiah 12:27–47). Talk about the instruments they used and the two great choirs that marched atop the walls to the temple. Then put together a homegrown band using real or improvised instruments. Practice joyful praise songs, and march around the “walls” of your home or yard. Your kids will love the idea of the joyous, active “thanksgiving” that could be heard “far away” (v. 43).
- Think differently. Corrie ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place teaches a great lesson in thankfulness. Share Corrie’s story with your kids, pointing out her struggle to be thankful in all things. She even thanked God for fleas in her barracks. She later learned the fleas kept the guards away and allowed Corrie and others to study the Bible without interruption.
- Create a chain reaction. Help your children make a “God is good” chain. Gather scissors, stickers, pencils, crayons, glue, and construction paper. Cut the paper in strips, and ask your kids to think about the many ways God is good. Have them write or draw these attributes on the strips. Connect the strips to form a chain, and hang the chain in a place where it will remind your family of God’s goodness.
- Focus on blessings. Choose a family project for the month that will draw your focus to God’s goodness.
- Make a blessing basket. Place a basket containing a pencil and pad of paper in an easy-to-reach location. Throughout the month, encourage family members to jot down ways God has blessed them. Younger children can draw or cut out pictures from magazines. Each day, read these together and give God thanks, or set aside some time for this activity on Thanksgiving Day.
- Trim a tree of thanks. Draw and cut out a large paper tree, then cut out lots of loose leaves in autumn colors. Mount the tree in a prominent place, and put the leaves nearby in a box with tape and markers. Ask your family to write on the leaves things for which they are thankful, and then tape the leaves to the tree. Ask younger children: “What do you want to thank God for today?” Encourage your family to add to the tree daily.
- Serve up a memory. Bring an eternal perspective to your Thanksgiving table. Consider adding these touches to the family feast.
- Find your seat. Help your children make a place card for each place setting. On one side, write names of guests and family; on the other, write a Scripture verse about being thankful. Let each person read a verse before the blessing.
- Encourage participation. Include a paper leaf at each place setting with an “assignment” written on it.
- Read Psalm 100.
- Share a Thanksgiving memory. Use this on several paper leaves.
- Lead the group in a praise chorus. Have copies of lyrics available.
- Say the blessing for our meal.
- Set the mood. Give an unlit votive candle to each person. Light your own candle, and thank God for specific blessings. Then continue the process around the table until all the candles are lit. Lead your family in a candlelight service of thanksgiving.
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