Gratitude and construction paper

November is the time of year for elections, pumpkin pie, and Black Friday.  But don't forget,  it's also the time of year when we should take just a minute out of our busy lives to express gratitude.  As adults, we sometimes forget how important those simple little thank yous can be.  As parents, it's our job to make sure that our kids know how to feel and express gratitude.  A fun way to teach that lesson in a non-teachy way is through craft projects.  Here's a few of my favorites, hope they inspire you!

Thankful Tree

First of all, every year since he was old enough to hold a crayon, my son and I have made a thankful tree.  It's always a little bit different.  He's now old enough to write out his own leaf, and my youngest scribbles on his (or eats the crayon, truthfully).  Did I mention that I'm very thankful for non-toxic crayons?  Anyway, your thankful tree can reflect your own family.  It can be simple, difficult or somewhere in between.  One year, we found a large branch in our yard and hung our decorated leaves off of it with ornament hangers.  This year, I made a construction paper tree and taped it to a wall.  However you choose to construct the tree, the basic concept stays the same.

You'll need:

  • Construction paper in fall colors
  • Scissors
  • Crayons or markers

Cut out a whole bunch of construction paper leaves and each day, write out what you're thankful for on that given day.  I let my kids do their own thing, our only "rule" is that it has to be something important to us and something that we feel thankful for in our hearts.   They come up with some amazing things, all on their own. One of the best things about this craft is that it can be modified for all ages.  My 14 month old son just colors on his leaf, my 4 year old very earnestly writes out his (often with one word spread across three lines), and I usually write mine in my little-used calligraphy, mostly just to get the opportunity to use those pens I bought.  I also love the discussions that come up as we make and decorate our leaves.  This craft is time well spent, and I intend to continue this craft for as long as I can.  When my boys are teenagers and roll their eyes at me, I will probably keep on doing it alone.

Thankful Jars

The next craft I'm really excited about is an idea called thankful jars.  I haven't made these before this year, but I love the concept!  They're another very easy craft that you can make more complicated if you have older kids.

You need:

  • 1 jar (Mason jars work well) per family member
  • Whatever decorations you want to use on the jars
  • Small note sized paper and pens

Yup, that's it.  Just decorate (or at least label) a jar for each family member.  The idea is to write a note of thanks to each family member, each day.  I will probably start this one about a week before Thanksgiving because I think it will be difficult to maintain for much longer, but if your kids are older you can start it at the beginning of November.  My initial thought about this craft was how wonderful this would be for school-age siblings.  Mine aren't there yet, but you can bet I will be doing this when they are.  I love a craft project that makes brothers and sisters say something nice about each other!

Pumpkin Pie Spinner

Another project we might make this month is called a Pumpkin Pie Spinner.  I love this one for several reasons.  One, it's ridiculously easy.  Two, it's adaptable to different ages.  And last but not least, it's a great keepsake that could also be given as a gift.  I'm pretty sure the grandmas in my family would love to put this on their fridges.

You need:

  • A paper plate
  • Orange construction paper
  • One brad fastener
  • Letter stickers or markers

First, cut the construction paper into a circle that will fit inside the paper plate. Cut out one piece in the shape of a pie before fastening it onto the plate.  Attach the paper with the brad fastener from the bottom of the plate, so that the construction paper spins.  Write or use letter stickers to spell out "I am thankful for" on the remaining construction paper, and spin the paper to write in your individual thanks in each "slice".  This is a great craft for small kids, because you can easily substitute pictures for words and they can draw what they're thankful for instead of writing it.

Edible Placecards

The last Thanksgiving craft I try to do with my kids is to make edible placecards for Thanksgiving dinner.  Even if we're not hosting, we usually make these and bring them along.  There's a ton of different ways to do them, but my tried-and-true is to make cutout cookies, put the guests' first names on them, and then let the kids decorate them.  I love to cut them out in the shape of a hand and make turkeys out of them, but you could use fall themed cookie cutters too.  We usually write little notes to put under the cookies saying "I'm thankful for you because (fill in the blank)."  These get tons of smiles and a few tears, and I have squirreled away my Thanksgiving notes to read when I need a little lift.

Since this one is too easy to need instructions, I will just give you a great cutout cookie recipe instead.

Cream Cheese Cutout Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (This recipe originally called for vanilla, but use almond if you have it.  It's much more flavorful.)
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • In a large bowl, cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and extract. Combine flour and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture just until blended. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or until easy to handle.
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8-in. thickness. Cut with cookie cutters dipped in flour. Place 1 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets.
  • Bake at 375° for 7-8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool for 1 minute before removing to wire racks.

This recipe works really well for cutout cookies because they don't rise or spread very much.

I love doing crafts and projects like these with my kids.  Both the time spent and the inherent lesson are extremely important, and lots of fun.  But don't forget that simple steps foster a grateful person.  Just saying thank you, and meaning it, means your kids will too.  Happy Thanksgiving!