Earlier this week, I asked my second graders to write their annual Thanksgiving Letters home. I have done this nearly every year for the 32 years I have been a teacher. That’s a lot of thank you notes. I’m thinking between 650 and 700 letters of gratitude. That is also a lot of classroom time devoted to this simple act. Gratitude. There is a lot to be said for gratitude.
There are always common themes. Often what pops into children’s minds are the material things. That was true when I worked with more economically disadvantaged children as well as the middle and upper income families.
To begin this activity every year I ask the students to generate ideas for the kinds of things they might consider as they write their own letters. It’s the tangible stuff that they think of first. Of course it is. It’s what they can feel, see, touch. We had an amazing conversation Monday morning. I wrote “stuff” on the board to placehold the idea of toys, game systems, pets, bikes, etc. When we got to the what else part of the conversation, that was where the real ideas started to flow.
So, we wrote. It was one of those times when the children did not really need a teacher in the room. They were caught up in their thoughts and aside from a few questions to each other about how to spell a word or when to capitalize, there was only the busy sounds of pencils making their ways across lined paper recording deep appreciations…
Thank you for the memories you have given me from the time I was born until now…. I’m thankful for my sister and her sweet self… I am thankful for the earth and flowers and the trees and grass… Sometimes I think of the people who don’t have families like you and don’t have the opportunity to have Thanksgiving. And it just makes me more thankful… Thank you for having my little brother so he can play with me… Thank you for being a good model… Thank you for being so kind to me… I’ll tell you some good times. Here’s one. When we slept in the living room and we made beds on the floor and we watched TV… You raised me good and your heart is pumping blood to always remember me... Thank you for all you’ve done and how you raised me. I think I will be a good mom too… Thank you for caring for me when I am sick and when I am scared in the dark… Thank you for teaching me how to ride with two wheels on my bike… Thank you for inspiring me to be nice to others… Thank you for just loving me back… Thank you for taking me to the beach where waves crash… Thank you for caring for me when I had my tonsils and adenoids out… Thank you for playing in the sprinkler with me…
Even the sign offs were memorable…
I love you Mom and Dad,
I love you very much,
From your son,
OK I will stop,
From your beloved son,
Signing off with love,
I really love you all,
Your only, loveable, kind daughter,
Much love you love,
Remember me always,
And, of course, the simplest of all – but the most powerful word there is.
As I write my own letters to my mom year after year and share my appreciations for the way she raised me, the example she set, the bar she raised, the brothers and sisters she gave me, the memories, the family friends, the lessons and – the stuff, I am sitting with a group of like-minded friends with the same purpose. It is so important to express the feelings and appreciations we have for each other. When we do it in writing we can say things we wouldn’t often say face to face. Through their simple eloquence the little ones in my classroom keep teaching me to write from my heart. And I am so blessed.