In a world where some children are given so much, and others so little, it is hard to teach true thankfulness to those who constantly live with more than they require. Teaching in a private school will always bring the challenges of opening a student’s eyes to appreciate all they have been given and to recognise the blessings that they might frequently overlook. Some children will not even understand the idea of poverty, because the thought of them living, without knowing where the next meal is coming from is such a foreign concept to them. So many children today have so much more than they could really want or need, to the point that they cannot even genuinely appreciate the items that they own, or the experiences that they regularly partake in.
So, how do teachers teach thankfulness? How do we teach students to appreciate time, gifts, food, nature, shelter and love? While at times I honestly feel that the task is near impossible, I know that with time and persistence, you can help open children’s eyes to the blessings around them, simply by drawing their attention to what they have, and imagining what life would be like without it. I have been personally encouraged and inspired by the book, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. The way she teaches us to be truly thankful in all things (including the small things), is so simple, yet such a daily challenge. When you change your perception of what a blessing is however, you start to appreciate more than you could ever have imagined.
In Kindergarten for the last two years, we have used prayer journals and when we begin writing in these journals, it is first and foremost with a ‘thank you.’
“Dear God, thank you for…”
“Dear Jesus, thank you for…”
“Dear Lord, thank you for…”
After about a term of thanking God for things we then introduce the idea of asking for something or praying for the needs of another. It has been beautiful to observe what students choose to write about and how they craft their prayers. Often they are so caught up in their list of ‘thank yous’ that when it comes to the ‘please’ time, they do not desire to ask God for anything. If my students are at this point, my heart is content, as I know that they are focusing more on praising and thanking God for the blessings that they themselves have identified around them.
Sometimes children need to be reminded that their mums and dads are blessings, that their siblings are blessings, that their school is a blessing, that the fresh, clean water they drink and the lunchbox packed full of food is a blessing. While I am sure some parents often try to remind their children of this at home, parents and teachers alike will realise, that for some reason, what the teacher says will often sink in more! In a Christian school, it is a blessing in itself to be able to freely discuss God and His love for us. Students are in a place where they can truly reflect upon those blessings during a Writing lesson or an Art lesson and can bounce ideas off their peers in discussions and also pray together.
In Kindergarten, we have just introduced News Groups, a time for Speaking and Listening, where students sit in small groups to share their news, rather than just one person talking to the whole class. There are set topics each day, and this year, we decided to introduce a prayer group session, once a week. Students share their prayer points and then take turns of praying. This time has really been quite beautiful to watch. While some students are discovering their own prayer language, others are quite confident in expressing themselves through praying aloud. What students can learn and how they can grow from just sitting and interacting in this way together is really quite incredible.
For me, as a parent of a child who was a Kindergarten student last year, reading her journal full of prayers at the end of the year was such a special experience, and the journal itself will be a keepsake for years to come. While most of the entries were ‘thank yous’, I recently happened upon one entry written just after the Cross Country a year ago.
“God, please help me to ran fast.”
Despite the incorrect grammar, I believe God honoured her prayer. While she didn’t even place in the Cross Country last year, this year she actually came first, and by a long shot, much to the amazement of us all! While children need to learn that sometimes God says ‘no’, or ‘wait’, to our prayers, at other times we can celebrate the ‘yeses’. When He does say yes, it is important to celebrate this and remember it as a time when God heard our words and answered.
I believe if we can encourage and build up the habit of prayer in our children, it will help to bring forth amazing young men and women who will actually believe in the power of prayer, as we all should. As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 18:3, we need faith like a child if we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. If we can encourage and inspire God’s beloved little children to seek time with Him early in life, how much more will we enable them to live lives enriched by His presence and filled with the realisations of His great blessings.
As Ephesians 3:20 says,
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us… to him be glory… for ever and ever! Amen.