There are lots of ways to start kids down a path of gratitude and empathy, and they don’t have to wait until the holiday season to start. With the gift giving over, your family can plan a new year filled with gratitude, teaching empathy and thankfulness to your kids all year long.
Be good to your body.
A good place to start is to teach kids to be thankful to their bodies. Staying healthy all year long takes exercise, activity and simple stuff like hand-washing. If you’re not keen on a gym membership, or can’t find one right for your family, start by making circuits at your local park. By March, your family will be ready to Jump for Justice! at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, a free event where families can enjoy exercise circuits inspired by RBG’s fitness regime, then put their gratitude to the test by making cards for U.S. troops overseas, assembling “sick kits” for survivors, and knitting scarves for refugees.
Get back to nature.
Mother Nature is no stranger to a thank you. Recycling and picking up trash around your own neighborhoods is a good way to start to thank the environment. To go a little further, find event hosted by the Chicago Park District, Forest Preserve of Cook County, Forest Preserve of DuPage County or Lake County Forest Preserves to learn more about nature around you. Your family can take nature hikes or classes about everything from bugs to bats to big, furry creatures and be thankful they live in Illinois.
Introduce thankful trees and thank you notes.
Thankful trees and jars are popular at Thanksgiving as a way for families to think of what they were thankful for that year. Why not make it a weekly game? Kids can write down what made them thankful that week and on Sundays or Fridays, the family can share their stories. Also, bring back the thank you note. Whether it’s to a grandparent, a friend, a teacher or a coach, kids can write notes for everything: gifts, extra time to learn a new skill, or even a playdate. Let your kids pick out their own stationary and write the notes by hand (feel free to give littler writers a boost with ideas or let them dictate to you).
While the holidays might be over, consider a year of gifting experiences for birthdays and even other milestones – like great report cards or the removal of braces – instead of material gifts. Experiences teach kids that memories are sometimes bigger than trinkets they’ll eventually outgrow. Your family will pick up gratitude points learning about different towns (experiences away from the city) or different cultures (a day at a museum).
Give away toys.
When your kids are old enough that you start seeing piles of unused toys or those they’ve graduated from – does your 7-year-old still need those cloth books? – have them make piles of what they’re ready to give away. Whether it’s donating to a charity – look for donation centers or charities willing to pick up your unused items here – or to a family in your neighborhood or friend circle with younger kids, your children will learn about the importance for empathy and charity.
Volunteer (and maybe win a trip to Disney).
As if there weren’t enough great reasons to teach kids about volunteering, Disney has upped the ante with the chance for a free day at one of its parks. Though Family Volunteer Day has passed, the chance to win a trip lasts all year long. There are many organizations that can use your family’s help. Check out our free volunteering guide or find easy opportunities through Chicago Cares.
Set a family game night.
This one might seem a little self-serving, because you’re all playing together. But consider cooperative games for all ages and stages (like Pictionary or charades), which teach teamwork and consideration for the skills and abilities of others. It’s also a chance to work on family bonding and unplugged together time.
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