In 2019, my first year as a Playworks Coach, it seemed as though 90% of what I did on the recess yard was tie my students’ shoelaces. Many of them would run up to me, breathless, motion to their untied shoes, and I knew exactly what they were asking. As soon as I finished tying their laces, they would bolt off without another word, immediately immersed in a new tag game.
But there was one first grade student who, halfway through the year, started to pause before running back to his soccer game. He’d look down at his freshly tied shoes, look back up at me, and say, “Thank you for tying my shoes, Coach Leah.”
It didn’t take me long to remember that the previous week during our Class Game Time, we had talked about gratitude and the importance of saying thank you. After I noticed this particular first grader’s new habit of saying thank you for tying his shoes, my eyes were opened to students thanking their lunch monitors for helping them in the cafeteria, thanking their bus drivers, custodians, teachers, classmates, and so on. The art of saying thank you transcended our Class Game Time, and was embraced by the students as something they should practice throughout their days, with as many people as possible.
When I started seeing my students express gratitude, it inspired me to do the same. This is one of the wonderful things about gratitude: it has ripple effects. According to a study at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, expressions of gratitude not only positively affect those giving and receiving the gratitude, but also positively impact those who witness it. Intentionally teaching one group of first graders about gratitude had a ripple effect throughout the school community, and the ways that I saw people show appreciation for one another was inspiring.
Research conducted at Harvard states that gratitude “helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” There’s a whole lot of good that saying thank you can do, and teaching gratitude on the playground, in the classroom/workplace, and throughout the community is necessary for kids and adults to build positive and empathetic spaces.
Teaching and expressing gratitude can start with small acts, but has the potential to shift school, work, and home environments. Here are five simple ways to incorporate thankfulness into your communities:
- Journal! Whether it be a personal journal, a classroom journal, or a journal at home, reflect every day on something that you, your class, or your family are grateful for. You can also make it more specific: What food are you thankful for today? Who is someone who you don’t talk to a lot but who you are thankful for? What is something about your body that you are grateful for?
- Write thank you notes. When was the last time you received a thank you note? How about the last time you wrote one? It feels good to be appreciated- take a few minutes today to write a thank you note to someone you care about in your life, or carve out 30 minutes of time to write thank you notes as a class or work department!
- Watch the Kid President’s 25 Reasons to be Thankful and create your own list. Hang it up in your office, near your desk, or somewhere you will see frequently to be reminded of what you’re thankful for.
- Adapt Playworks games to teach gratitude! When playing I Love My Neighbor, adapt the wording to “I’m thankful for…” and those who share that gratitude have to run. Similarly, try out Charades Tag, but teams can only act out things or people they’re thankful for.
- Intentionally give people the space to show their gratitude. Whether it be at the end of recess, the end of a business meeting, or the end of a family meal, intentionally block five minutes to give everyone the chance to voice shout-outs to people they are appreciative of.
As we enter the holiday season, take a moment to reflect on the ways that you express gratitude. Is there someone who has “tied your shoes” for you today? Can you send a text or email to someone who you appreciate? What about showing a random act of kindness to someone you’re grateful for?
As Voltaire once said, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” We would love to hear what you’re thankful for today- tweet us and keep an eye on our Instagram and Facebook for other opportunities to share your gratitude throughout the month of November.
Written by Leah Kelly, Playworks Coach 2019-2021