Gratitude is the ability to be thankful and to see and appreciate the good that’s in our lives. As an educator, mother of two children, and program director, gratitude is both professionally and personally important to me.
In my own life, gratitude helps me keep a wider lens to allow my mind and heart to stay open. Often, when life gets busy or things get challenging, it easier to get fixated on what is wrong or troubling me. Although this is normal, I have found, that in these moments, I can intentionally practice gratitude to help to shift to a more positive space. I can pause and chose to reflect on a few things that I am grateful for right now. When I remember to do this, I immediately feel my heart and mind expand to more possibility and I'm not as contracted.
As a mother and educator, I witness the many potential benefits of installing mindfulness and gratitude practices from a young age. Children can so easily understand the idea of gratitude and I see how it can contribute to their overall sense of awe, happiness, and wellbeing. Learning these practices as children, when their brain and mindset is developing, with the support of their family and school community can help them build a solid foundation for mental health as they grow into adulthood.
Gratitude doesn't just feel good. Making a habit of gratitude can also be good for us. Like other positive emotions, such as joy, love, and compassion; feeling grateful on a regular basis can have a big effect on our lives.
New research is starting to explore how gratitude works to improve our mental health. In an interesting study highlighted by the Greater Good Magazine, 300 adults (mostly college age) saw significant mental health benefits in just 4 and 12 weeks of writing gratitude letters. Here are some of their findings:
Here are some ways I like to unpack gratitude with the children I work with:
Favorite Gratitude Quotes:
This collection of some of my favorite gratitude quotes can also serve as inspiration for a thankful heart. You can post them in your classroom and invite students to add their reflections on the quotes on chart paper in a gallery walk or use them as conversation starters in a sharing circle.
Other Conversation Starters:
3 Gratitude Activities:
Trace the Source: Where Did That Come From
Children can have the mindset that things just “appear” in front of them. (for example, new shoes may come into their lives when they need them, or often a meal is just “served.” They are sometimes unaware of how those shoes or that meal are the product of a long line of efforts from various people.
To show students that everything is interconnected, have them research an object of their choice, tracing how it gets to them. In the shoe example, that would include a process that starts with a designer, manufacturing, and distribution to the mall before their parents can purchase the shoes.
Gratitude photo hunt
Send students on a photo hunt at the beginning of the week. Using their tablets, phones, or cameras, have them capture objects or moments for which they are thankful. At the end of the week, have them share their work in a presentation or via a shared Pinterest board.
You may also like the following Gratitude related resources:
About the Author:
Mayuri Gonzalez (E-RYT, RCYT) has been practicing yoga and meditation for over 25 years since her own childhood and specializes in bringing yoga and mindfulness to children. She has taught for Little Flower Yoga since 2010 and is currently the Director of The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY offering direct service yoga and mindfulness classes for preschools and K-12 schools in the Greater New York Area, staff development workshops, staff yoga, and tools for schools nationwide.
As the school year begins and we have the priviledge of working with children from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, it is essential that we work to create inclusive and welcoming learning communities. An important part of this work, particularly in public schools, is a committment to secularism in our teaching, and to respecting the diverse religious and non-religious beliefs of our children and their families, both in priniciple and in practice.
Secularism maintains a separation between state and religious institutions and recognizes religious equlity before the law. Secularism invites students to bring their own belief system to the educational experience, and in teaching yoga and mindfulness we can meaningfully support students in this exploration without promoting any particular religious or spiritual beliefs.
Little Flower Yoga founder Jennifer Cohen Harper, along with colleagues Catherine Cook-Cottone and Traci Childress, have written an important persepctive piece, published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, that explores guiding questions for inclusive yoga in school. We hope that all school based yoga and mindfulness educators will consider these questions, and the implications for our field and community, as they dive into this important work.
Abstract: This commentary explores the legal and ethical obligations of yoga programs and teachers to uphold both the principles and the spirit of secularism when teaching yoga in schools. Arguing that secularity is essential both to comply with legal mandates and to maximize inclusivity and access, each facet of a secular approach to yoga in schools is explored through an inquiry-based model meant to help the reader gain clarity and make informed choices when developing school-based yoga programming. This article does not address the use of nonsecular yoga for children outside the school setting. It instead speaks to the complexities of topics such as spirituality, personal transformation, secular ethics, and the use of cultural and historical artifacts within school programs. While inviting continued reflection on the nuances of the topic, the article concludes that given both the legal imperatives and potential risk of exclusion, failure to offer school-based yoga using a secular approach threatens to undermine the success of the field and hinder access to practices that have positive effects on young people.
*This article originally appeared in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, published by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Used with permission.
If this conversation is compelling to you, you may want to check out our webinar on the topic, led by Jennifer Cohen Harper with guest Catherine Cook-Cottone.