Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving & Gratitude for Kids

November is about gratitude. The harvest is in, we honor our Veterans and their families, Christmas is weeks away, and Thanksgiving is upon us. If you have young kids, it's likely they'll be doing some sort of Pilgrim/Indian dress up thing at school this week. I don't know that I would actually tell children not to participate because it may not be politically correct... I do think it's an opportunity to teach them more about Native Americans, and to reaffirm the concept of gratitude.

November is also Native American Heritage Month. Here are some of my suggestions for teaching your children a little more about Indians than that they had a picnic with the Pilgrims. I'd love to hear what you do with your kids for Thanksgiving!

Do an Internet search to see if there are any related events in your area. Many museums, libraries and schools are having rug weaving, basket weaving, jewelry making, beading, cooking or dancing demonstrations - you might even luck out and find a Pow Wow nearby!

You could read the 2010 Presidential Proclamation with older kids and explain what it means. The National Park Service has a great web page with lots of information on American Indian historic sites you could visit or learn about. You might listen to Native American Radio Online (AIRO). Here's AIRO's schedule.

Here are two great children's books I like that feature American Indian culture:
The Butterfly Dance (Tales of the People series) by Gerald Dawavendewa, and Coyote in Love With a Star by Marty Kreipe De Montano.

These beautiful books are part of the Tales of the People series created by Indian artists and writers with the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).

The stories and illustrations are charming and spot on accurate in their portrayal of Indian culture. They each even have a separate section of photos and info and a glossary of words in different Indian languages.

Another book I like is The Goat in the Rug by Geraldine the goat (as told to Charles L. Blood and Martin Link), in which Geraldine supervises her wool being woven into a traditional Navajo rug. All of these books are perfect picture books to read to little ones and have a reading level of 4 to 8 years. Maybe you could find them in your local bookstore or library.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to remind children (and ourselves) of just how much we have to be grateful for. Even if you're not religious, a big Thanksgiving dinner begs for sentiments of appreciation.

Before eating, everyone could say out loud, briefly, what they feel especially thankful for. If someone doesn't want to participate - is too shy or too cool ; ) - that's fine. Ask them to just think about it. You're still setting a good example and a tradition. If it's been a particularly difficult day/month/year, you can still be thankful for running water, food, a roof over your head. As trite it sounds, "It could always be worse."

Help your kids understand all the ways that they're blessed, and all they ways they can bless others:
  • Gather things to give away just before or after Thanksgiving, explaining that we have so much, and things that are cluttering our homes, that we're just tired of, or that we've outgrown could mean the world to someone else.
  • Have them go online with you and look at different charities to which you could make a donation - even a small amount. Talk about the different charities and causes.
  • Many families have a tradition of volunteering to help serve at homeless shelters' Thanksgiving meals.
  • Visit relatives who are close enough and telephone those who aren't, and have the children talk to them. Remember the happy times you've all had together, or share your own good memories if they haven't met. Teach them to appreciate family.
I was just reminded of the North American Indian tradition of the "giveaway," wherein the act of giving humbly is a very important part of their culture and considered spiritual. To express gratitude for an important event - a birth, a soldier returning from war, a graduation - a giveaway and/or a "feed" is offered in thanks for good fortune. 

Thank you, lovely readers! I'm honored that you spent your valuable time with me. I hope you'll follow my blog, and that you'll participate by sharing your feedback, ideas, photos, and suggestions for future topics.

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