• Spread the Love: Great Books to Cultivate Gratitude for Children of All Ages

    As the holidays approach, it’s all too easy for our kids to get caught up with wanting more stuff, especially. How can we help kids be happy with what they already have and cultivate an attitude of gratitude?

    Research from the Greater Good Science Center tells us that gratitude actually blocks toxic emotions even as it allows us to celebrate the present. Additionally, its been proven that grateful people are more stress-resistant and have a higher sense of self-worth.


    In a 2003 study from the University of California, Davis, grateful people reported higher levels of happiness and optimism, as well as lower levels of depression and stress. High school students who score high on gratitude have more friends and higher grades, while more materialistic students report more envy, lower grades and less life satisfaction, according to a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies. While some people may be blessed with a natural inclination toward thankfulness, for most of us gratitude is learned. By learning gratitude, children become sensitive to the feelings of others, developing their innate capacities for empathy and altruism.

    The following is a list of books that provide kids with lessons in generosity and gratitude. In some cases, the books demonstrate outright gratitude while others weave the concept of giving throughout the story. Let us know how you weave these great titles into your work!

     

    Click here for some great tips on how to integrate books into your kids yoga classes.
     

     

    Thankful by Eileen Spinelli 
    (Ages 4-8)
    In a sing-song tone, “Thankful” takes the reader through a slightly silly tale what people are thankful for. The gardener is thankful for every green sprout, the artist is thankful for color and light, the chef is thankful for plates licked clean. Kids will love the illustrations that add to this simple story of thanks.
     

    Giving Thanks: a Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp
     (Ages 5-11)
    “Giving Thanks” illustrates what the Mohawk tribe refers to as the “Thanksgiving Address,” a morning habit of starting each day by giving thanks to Mother Earth. This tradition is based on the belief that the natural world is a rare gift to be cherished. Readers give thanks for blue waters, green grasses, the animals, sun, thunder, and other natural wonders.
     

    The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving by Ellen Sabin
    (Ages 4-8)
    How many times have you said to your kids: “It’s better to give than to receive.” only to be met with blank stares? Giving to others and being generous can sometimes be a challenging concept for kids. Ellen Sabin’s The Giving Book, aims to nurture a better understanding of giving with stories and fables of people who were generous, lists of how kids can support charities, and worksheets to get kids thinking about thankfulness, generosity, and charity. Think of this as more of a workbook than a story book.
     

    Beautiful Hands by Bret Baumgarten and Kathryn Otoshi
    (Ages 2 and up)
    Little hands can do so many beautiful things. This colorful concept book reveals an illustrative surprise and reading delight with every turn of the page. Little hands can do so many wonderful things: plant ideas; stretch imaginations; and reach for dreams. Parents and educators will enjoy sharing the word play with young readers. Children will revel in the spectacular art created using thumb- and hand-prints. The book's uplifting message will rouse and motivate, leaving no heart untouched.This book was created to inspire children everywhere to use their power to help themselves and others achieve their dreams! 
     

    Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
    (Ages 8-12)
    In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life's questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family's fortune. Minli sets off on a quest to find out how she can change her poor family's fortune and discovers much about what brings happiness in life. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest for the ultimate answer. 


    The Grateful Giraffe: A Kids Yoga Feelings Book by Giselle Shardlow
    (Ages 2-5)
    Join six yoga kids from around the world as they learn about various animals and relate their behaviors to our feelings. Be a caring koala, a cranky crocodile, or a curious cat. Visit countries around the world, learn about various animals, and talk about feelings! This feelings yoga book for toddlers and preschoolers includes a list of kids yoga poses and a parent-teacher guide.
     

    Today I am Grateful: Adventures in Gratitude by Lorraine Miller
    (Ages 5-10)
    Today I Am Grateful was created to inspire children of all ages to experience the incredible power of gratitude. By taking the time to think about all the wonderful things that happen each day, children gain an appreciation for what matters most to them in their own lives. Following the lead of Milo, young readers can take part in this mindful practice using the activities provided at the end of the story.
     

    There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me by Alice Walker (Author), Stefano Vitale (Illustrator)
    (Ages 4-10)
    A beautiful book that makes you stop and realize that there are so many things happening around us that we typically don’t notice. Through this book’s simple text we learn that there is beauty all around us to recognize, connect with, and feel grateful for.
     

    Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss
    (Ages 5-9)

    This classic book provides the perfect antidote for readers of all ages who are feeling a bit down in the dumps (or having a hard time being thankful for what they have). Thanks to Dr. Seuss’s trademark rhymes and signature illustrations, readers will, without a doubt, realize just how lucky they truly are.
     

    Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness with Kids by Carol McCloud
    (Ages 4-9)
    This heartwarming book encourages positive behavior by using the concept of an invisible bucket to show children how easy and rewarding it is to express kindness, appreciation and love by "filling buckets."
     

    Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts (Author), Noah Z. Jones (Illustrator)
    (Ages 5-8)
    All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants.


    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.

    For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Mayuri by email at mayuri@littlefloweryoga.com


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

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  • Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports an Attitude of Gratitude


    Gratitude is the ability to be thankful and to see and appreciate the good that’s in our lives.


    Many of us have experienced a feeling of gratitude when someone close to us offers us help when we need it. It’s a powerful feeling that supports connection and our ability to meet challenges in our life. In an article in Greater Good Magazine, Dr. Robert Emmons, an expert on gratitude, describes several physical, psychological, and social benefits of practicing gratitude, such as a healthier lifestyle, higher levels of positive emotions, and greater feelings of connection with the world and those around us. 

     

    He also explains that there are two components of gratitude. The first is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good thing in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life.” This is particularly important when everything seems to be going wrong in our lives or in the world. Being grateful can be an affirming and radical act of hope. 

     

    Emmons continues to explain that “the second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves…. We can appreciate positive traits in ourselves, but I think true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others: We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.” In other words, gratitude supports healthy relationships and interdependence, both crucial for our survival and physical and mental well-being. 

     

    Mindfulness Supports Gratitude

    One of the things mindfulness helps us do is connect to the world, to people around us, and to ourselves with kindness and curiosity. We develop the ability to bring loving awareness to each and every moment with an attitude of not knowing, or a beginner’s mind. This capacity of nonjudgment, or to see all aspects of our life with a sense of equanimity, is supported by and supports gratitude. When we bring awareness to our life in this way, we can tap into the abundance we naturally find in our lives instead of focusing on what we lack. 

     

    Oren J. Sofer of Mindful Schools explains, “The emotion of gratitude reveals the treasure of an all too often forgotten word: enough. Gratitude practice runs counter to our culture of consumption, competition, and achievement. It also runs counter to the negativity bias that is so pervasive in our minds—always noticing what’s wrong, what’s missing. Gratitude is, by definition, deeply connected with a sense of presence and contentment.” This is not to say that we should turn a blind eye to areas of lack in our lives and our world. Rather, by bringing mindfulness and gratitude to each moment, we can focus on what is important and feel energize to act.  


    Gratitude and mindfulness can remind us that every moment offers the opportunity to notice what’s going right as well as what needs support. 


    We can notice and appreciate the big and small wonders of our natural world working in harmony to sustain everything in our planet; being cognizant of this can motivate us to live greener and more sustainable lives. We can feel our body and appreciate how every day it coordinates itself to help us stay alive; this awareness can motivate us to make lifestyle choices that better support our health. We can enjoy the smile of a child as he or she waves hello, or feel the support the communities we’re part of offer, and we can return the smile and find ways to support our communities. By practicing mindfulness and gratitude, we can orient our lives toward what really moves us, and we can be motivated to continue living our lives with compassion and a sense of purpose.

     

    Like Mindfulness, Gratitude Also Takes Practice

    We might not always feel gratitude, but we can orient toward being grateful and develop the trait and habit just like we do with our mindfulness practice. This will ultimately support us in recognizing the wisdom we gain, even from the hardships we face, which can help us meet each moment with equanimity and skill. In this way, mindfulness and gratitude support resilience.

     

    Linda Graham, in her book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, often speaks of gratitude offering a wider perspective that can help us more skillfully meet the challenges we face in life. On her blog she writes about how gratitude helped her cope with a particularly challenging situation:

     

    “The gratitude practice of the morning primed my mind and heart to stay open. The mindfulness and compassion practices of the afternoon session kept my mind and heart open. All of these practices primed my brain to stay open and engaged, not go into survival mode, to stay in that defocused mode of processing where the brain makes its own associations, connects its own dots, and comes up with its own solutions. Gratitude created conditions in the brain for coping, and I was mighty grateful for that.” 

     

    Our gratitude practice can support us when we’re in need and give us insight into even challenging moments, when being grateful might be the last thing we’re thinking about.

     

    Gratitude activities can be simple. Try these three simple practices from Omega Institute of Holistic Studies for yourself or with your students:

     

    • Write in a gratitude journal to keep track of all you have to be grateful for.
    • Write a letter to someone you feel grateful to have in your life.
    • Go on a gratitude walk, noting all the things you are thankful for. 

     

    There are also lots of other fun activities you can do with your students to help cultivate gratitude. Try Gratitude Rocks or the Gratitude Wheel as described by Mindful Schools.

     

    It’s important to note, however, that, like mindfulness and compassion, gratitude is a skill that can be developed. And the more all of us engage with it, the better we get at it. Consider all the ways you can insert mindfulness into your daily routines, your interactions with loved ones, or the children you work with. You can learn how gratitude can transform the workplace, as well as how you can promote gratitude in tweens and teens.

     

    These resources include a four-lesson gratitude curriculum. It also includes promising research, which claims, “when compared with their less grateful (and more materialistic) peers, grateful youth are happier and more satisfied with their lives, friends, family, neighborhood, and selves. They also report more hope, greater engagement with their hobbies, higher GPAs—and less envy and depression.” These are all wonderful resources that can help you introduce gratitude practices to your students and to support your own practice. 

     

    Last, we want to end by saying we are grateful for your generous attention. We thank you for being part of the mindfulness in education community. We are continuously inspired by the myriad ways you support and show up for the children in your life. Without your support this work couldn’t happen. 

     

    Our greatest wish is that you may all be happy, healthy, and filled with peace.


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!


    To explore gratitude with your kids further, check out this list of ten children’s books recommended by the director of our School Yoga Project, Mayuri Gonzalez.

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