featured, Holiday

Winter Solstice

Friday December 21st is the day of the Winter Solstice for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere.  This means the shortest day of the year.  In New England we have 8 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.  It is nice to take a moment on this day to pause and and celebrate the fact that more light will added to each day for the next 6 months.

The kids and I celebrate the animals in our yard on Winter Solstice.  We start by reading one of my favorite stories, Night Tree by Eve Bunting.  This book is a sweet tale about a family who hikes out into the woods each Christmas Eve to decorate a tree for the animals.

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This book has inspired us to create our own Night Tree in our own back yard.  We create ornaments with birdseed, gather old vegetables in the fridge and buy some extra sunflower seeds and chunks of suet.  We then go the the pine tree at the back of our yard and decorate it for the birds, deer, chipmunks and other small animals.

As the sun sets on Winter Solstice we do not turn on any overhead lights and instead live by candle light and Christmas lights.  As we sit in the soft glow of the house, we wonder about the animals that may be dining on their yearly winter feast.  It is a simple and cozy way to mark the Winter Solstice and show kindness to the living things in our own backyard.

Our Favorite Winter Solstice Books

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From the Publisher: “The beginning of winter is marked by the solstice, the shortest day of the year. Long ago, people grew afraid when each day had fewer hours of sunshine than the day before. Over time, they realized that one day each year the sun started moving toward them again. In lyrical prose and cozy illustrations, this book explains what the winter solstice is and how it has been observed by various cultures throughout history.”

 

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This favorite book has become part of a Winter Solstice tradition in our family.  You can read more about that HERE.  From the Publisher: “By moonlight in the quiet forest, a young boy and his family decorate their favorite tree with popcorn, apples, tangerines, and sunflower-seed balls as a gift for the animals of the woods.”

 

 

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This is our ABSOLUTE favorite winter book.  In this beautiful story, a little girl finally gets her chance to go owling with her father.  This book is about patience, adventure and quality time together. I would recommend this book for ages 3 and up.

From the publisher: “Distinguished author Jane Yolen has created a gentle, poetic story that lovingly depicts the special companionship of a young child and her father as well as humankind’s close relationship to the natural world. Wonderfully complemented by John Schoenherr’s soft, exquisite watercolor illustrations, this is a verbal and visual treasure, perfect for reading around and sharing at bedtime.”

 

Book Corner, Holiday, Holiday Books

Holiday Books of Kindness

Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won't make it 'white.' -Bing Crosby-8

Here are some great holiday books to share with children you love. CLICK HERE for a Kids in Service Book List printable that you can take with you to the library or local bookstore.

For the Kids

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Every now and again a picture book will surprise me and blow me away.  In 2018 my kids and I were doing an author study of Kate DiCamillo and were loving all of her humorous books.  This beautiful book was a big surprise and did bring “GREAT JOY”.  This is the sweet Christmas story of a little girl and her caring heart for the man who lives on her street corner.  This story of kindness and hope is perfect for EVERYONE ages 5 and up.

 

 

Every year I find a new holiday book that touches my heart and for 2019, it was Gracie’s Night.  This is so much more than a book about Hanukkah.  This is a book about kindness, love, giving and thinking of others.  I LOVED this book and feel EVERY child (person for that matter) should hear it.  I recommend it for ages 4 and up. From the Publisher: “THERE’S LOTS OF LOVE in Gracie’s and Papa’s lives, but not much money. Gracie finds a resourceful way to buy Papa some well-deserved Hanukkah gifts, but an encounter on a bitterly cold night opens her eyes and alters her plans. When we are brave enough to reach out instead of looking away, each of us can bring someone a miracle.”

 

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This picture book is a simpler version of the New York Times best seller, the Invisible Thread.  Both are the true story of a woman named Laura who builds a friendship with a boy named Maurice who she met on a NYC street while asking for money.  I LOVED the adult book and was so excited when I found this book last year for my children.  It is a heartwarming tale about their first Christmas together and the start of their life-long friendship.  I recommend it for ages 5+ and highly recommend the adult book as well.

 

From the publisher: “A refugee seeking sanctuary from the horrors of Kristallnacht, Oskar arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he has never met. It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. As Oskar walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his new home in the north of the city, he passes experiences the city’s many holiday sights, and encounters it various residents. Each offers Oskar a small act of kindness, welcoming him to the city and helping him on his way to a new life in the new world. This is a heartwarming, timeless picture book.”

 

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This is my FAVORITE Berenstain Bears book and it is a wonderful lesson for children about the importance of giving  and serving others in their community.  I recommend this for children ages 4+.  From the Publisher: “Brother and Sister Bear can’t wait for Christmas and all the presents they’ll open. But during the Christmas Eve pageant, something special happens! The Bear cubs learn a very valuable lesson about the joy of giving to others.”

 

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If this book does not make you smile, I do not know what will?  The illustrations are so vivid and expressive.  This beautiful story about giving will be come a family favorite for kids 3 and over.  From the Publisher: “We’ve all heard the story of the three wise men who brought their gifts to Baby Jesus. But what about the camels who carried them? Here is the story of Humphrey the camel and his long, cold journey to Bethlehem.”

 

This is a great book to teach the story of Hanukkah and why it is celebrated.  Children as young as 4 can hear this story and learn about the miracle long ago that is celebrated during Hanukkah.  From the Publisher: “Hanukkah is a wonderful time filled with games, food, family, and fun. It’s also the celebration of an ancient miracle, and retelling and remembering the story of that miracle is an essential part of the holiday, for young and old. The story of the courageous Maccabees is retold in simple yet dramatic text, accompanied by vibrant paintings of the battle, the Temple of Jerusalem, and the oil which miraculously burned for eight long nights.”

 

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From the Publisher: “A family of adorable pigs decides that this year they will make their gifts to each other for Christmas rather than buy gifts. Each family member is excited to try. Momma makes breakfast, Dad makes a blanket, and sister Rosie sings a song. But the littlest pig struggles to come up with an idea. What can he make?”

 

The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden and illustrated by Barbara Cooney is a beautiful picture book to share with children ages 5 and up.  Please don’t let the length of the book scare you away, treat it more like a chapter book and read over a couple of days. From the publisher: “Ivy, Holly, and Mr. and Mrs. Jones all have one Christmas wish. Ivy, an orphan, wishes for a real home and sets out in search of the grandmother she’s sure she can find. Holly, a doll, wishes for a child to bring her to life. And the Joneses wish more than anything for a son or daughter to share their holiday. Can all three wishes come true? This festive tale is perfectly complemented by beloved Barbara Cooney’s luminous illustrations, filled with the warm glow of the Christmas spirit.”

 

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From the Publisher: “Kwanzaa is Kayla’s favorite time of year. But this year, it looks as if a heavy snowstorm will keep her big brother, Khari, from getting home in time for the festivities! Will Khari miss the celebration completely? Or will Kayla and her brother somehow find a way to be together for Kwanzaa? A perfect introduction to Kwanzaa, this book will teach children all about the traditions and practices that make it a special winter holiday.”

 

 

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This favorite book has become part of a Winter Solstice tradition in our family.  You can read more about that HERE.  From the Publisher: “By moonlight in the quiet forest, a young boy and his family decorate their favorite tree with popcorn, apples, tangerines, and sunflower-seed balls as a gift for the animals of the woods.”

 

 

 

From the Publisher: “Jonathan Toomey is the best woodcarver in the valley, but he is always alone and never smiles. No one knows about the mementos of his lost wife and child that he keeps in an unopened drawer. But one early winter’s day, a widow and her young son approach him with a gentle request that leads to a joyful miracle. The moving, lyrical tale, gloriously illustrated by P.J. Lynch, has been widely hailed as a true Christmas classic.”

 

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This is our FAVORITE Hanukkah story but it can be a bit frightening for young children.  This is a story about a traveler who comes upon a small village where they are not celebrating Hanukkah because goblins have taken over the synagogue.  The traveler sets out to defeat the goblins using his wit.  A wonderful story about staying strong, being brave and standing up for what you believe in.  I think this book is wonderful for children ages 6 and up.  Maybe younger if your child is okay with the ideas of monsters.

 

 

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This short and sweet book brought tears to my eyes.  The illustrations are bold and fun and the story is simple and so sweet.  This story is sure to put you in the Christmas spirit and is great for ages 3+!  From the Publisher: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and a mother and daughter are enjoying the sights and sounds of the holiday season. She spreads the spirit of giving wherever she goes. And when she reaches Santa, she tells him her Christmas wish–for peace and love everywhere, all the days of the year.”

 

 

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From the Publisher: “The beginning of winter is marked by the solstice, the shortest day of the year. Long ago, people grew afraid when each day had fewer hours of sunshine than the day before. Over time, they realized that one day each year the sun started moving toward them again. In lyrical prose and cozy illustrations, this book explains what the winter solstice is and how it has been observed by various cultures throughout history.”

 

From the Publisher: “Li’l Rabbit is not having a very good Kwanzaa. Granna Rabbit is sick, and so his family won’t celebrate his favorite part of Kwanzaa this year: a big feast called Karamu. Li’l Rabbit knows what to do! He’ll find Granna Rabbit a special treat for Karamu so she can celebrate anyway. Inspired by Brer Rabbit, a trickster character from the African-American folklore tradition, the story of Li’l Rabbit captures the true meaning of Kwanzaa—coming together to help others.”

 

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From the Publisher: “Armand, an old Parisian living on the streets of Paris, relished his solitary life. He begged and did odd jobs for money to keep himself warm and fed, and he liked his carefree life. Then one day just before Christmas, a struggling mother and her three children walked into his life. Though he tried to ignore their troubles, Armand soon found himself caring for the family and sharing his unusual home under the bridge with them. It did not take Armand very long to realize that he had gotten himself ready-made family; one that he loved with all his heart, and one for whom he would have to find a better home than the bridge.”

 

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From the Publisher: “Sadie and her four little brothers are very poor and always hungry. On the first night of Chanukah, Sadie performs a generous act, and in turn receives a frying pan that cooks up sizzling hot, golden latkes on command. Sadie tells her brothers never to use the magic pan, but when she goes out one afternoon, the mischievous boys can’t resist. They remember the words to start the pan cooking . . . but what were the words to make it stop?”

 

517EVTWGW5L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_This book is no longer in print but you may be able to get it at your local library. This is a sweet story of kindness is all about Imani learning about Kwanzaa and her family traditions from her grandmother.  In this story it is the sixth night of Kwanzaa and time for the Karamu (the big feast of Kwanzaa) on New Year’s Eve.  It is Imani’s turn to light the Kinara on this special night and she is nervous.  What will the gift for Imani be?

 

 

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From the Publisher: “Based on her bestseller Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp expands her presentation of the timeless Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree with this beautiful keepsake. Each December, families can celebrate the coming of Jesus by opening the book to see a stunning 13-inch, three-dimensional Jesse Tree pop up from the page. At its foot are 25 doors, one for each day of Advent, which hide meaningful, beautifully detailed ornaments that are ready to be hung on the tree. Also inside is a simple devotional book with a reading for each ornament.”

 

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From the Publisher: “Based on the overwhelming success of The Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp has expanded her presentation of the timeless Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree so families can celebrate together. Each day, families can read the provided Scripture passage (in connection with the original book), engage with a specially written devotion to help children of all ages understand the Advent theme for the day, and participate in suggested activities to apply the theme. This special edition is beautifully illustrated.”

 

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This is a nice alphabet book that helps to understand all of the Swahili words and customs associated with Kwanzaa.  This is a great book for your family if you have never celebrated Kwanzaa before and would like to learn more about this festival of light and family. From the publisher: “A unique alphabet book for children and a wonderful introduction to Kwanzaa, the holiday that celebrates African American heritage.
 For example:A is for Africa — Africa is the second largest continent. It has many countries. African Americans’ ancestors came from Africa. Kwanzaa is a holiday that celebrates the rich heritage of Africa.”

 

 

For the Adults

 

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From the Publisher: Beginning with Jesse, the father of David, The Greatest Gift retraces the epic pageantry of mankind, from Adam to the Messiah, with each day’s profound reading pointing to the coming promise of Christ, so that come Christmas morning you find that the season hasn’t blurred past you but your heart’s fully unwrapped the greatest gift you’ve always yearned for. Sure to become a holiday staple in every Christian home, The Greatest Gift, a New York Times bestseller, is the perfect gift for the holidays and a timeless invitation into the richness of the true meaning of Christmas.”

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This book started a new tradition in my family a few years ago.    This is a heartwarming, fictional story about a family who saves their change all year long in a jar to pass on anonymously to someone in need at Christmas time.  This story has gone on to create a whole movement of real life Christmas Jars.  Thanks to this book, people are changing many lives and spreading hope and love with a jar of loose change.

 

 

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This book is about a family who is grieving the loss of their husband/father at Christmas time.  Anonymous gifts begin to appear daily on their door step and with each gift, they are given a little more hope and healing.  This beautiful book inspired a friend and I to do something similar a few Christmas’ ago when another friend lost her husband.  This is a wonderful tale to read at Christmas time to inspire you to spread some love and kindness to someone in need.

 

This story is on my reading list this month.  From the Publisher: “Celebrate the season of miracles with this collection of short stories about the lives of ordinary people and the lessons they learn during an extraordinary time of year.

As Moore’s protagonists face adversity and sadness, they learn important lessons, gain hope, and experience powerful transformations.”

 

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This is a fun book filled with joy, love, hope and holiday spirit!  You will fall in love with Joy, Miranda and the characters they meet along the way on their road trip from Chicago to Phoenix. This is a light read that is sure to put you into the holiday spirit.

 

 

 

Richard Paul Evans is the king of short Christmas novels and The Christmas Box was his debut.  I read this last Christmas and was touched by it’s important message.  Here is what the publisher says: “So begins The Christmas Box, the touching story of a widow and the young family who moves in with her. Rick, Keri, and their 4-year-old daughter, Jenna, are hired as caretakers and are welcomed into the Victorian home of Mary Parkins, an elderly widow, just before the holiday season. As the relationship between Mary and the family develops we learn that Mary’s past sorrows are compelling her to share an important message with Richard. But will he understand her message in time? A heartwarming story of parental love, healing, and Christmas.

 

 

 

Holiday, Quick Service Projects, Seasonal, Service Projects for Families

Christmas Jars

I stumbled upon the Christmas Jars book last year when I was searching for a holiday book to read.  Little did I know that this small book would lead to a new and meaningful Holiday Tradition.

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The Christmas Jars is a fictional book by Jason F. Wright and it has inspired a world-wide movement of hope, kindness and giving.  In the story, one family works all year to fill a jar with loose change.  On Christmas Eve, they go and leave the jar anonymously on the doorstep of someone who could use a little help and Christmas cheer.

Last year we left our first Christmas Jar on the doorstep of a family who had come across some hard times.  My husband, son and niece snuck up to the house, left the jar and ran so that they would not be discovered.  This jar inspired my niece to start two jars of her own for this year and ours is almost ready to bless another family a few days before Christmas.

This simple act of kindness can bring so much help and hope to a person in need.  The money in the jar may help to pay some bills, buy food or a few Christmas presents.  The most important thing that the jar will do is to let them know that they are special and loved.

Will you start your own Christmas Jar this year?

Holiday, Kindness

Homemade Christmas

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Every year, during the 12 days of Christmas, we have a Homemade Christmas.  We have always made each other something during the holidays but the meaning of the gifts would get lost in the shuffle as we opened all of the other gifts on Christmas morning.  Having a special day devoted to our homemade gifts brings so much more meaning to the gifts and love behind them.
On Homemade Christmas we have a special dinner, light up the tree and gather all of our homemade gifts.  We put on Christmas music and open our homemade gifts one at a time.  It is so much fun to watch the faces of both the creators of the gifts and the recipients.  This is one of my favorite holiday traditions.
A few years ago we started celebrating the 12 days of Christmas.  Sparkle Stories put out a wonderful collection of stories that inspired us to start our own traditions during the 12 days.  During these 12 days we light a new candle each night, listen to the Sparkle Story of the day, have a “Forgotten gift day” (usually a new family game that is wrapped and left under the tree until a few days after Christmas), have a Hibernation Day (where we stay in jammies, read books and play games all day), enjoy a Twelfth Night dinner and our favorite evening is Homemade Christmas.  Taking 12 days to celebrate Christmas has been such a great way to spread out the festivities and prevent the Christmas let down that often comes on the 26th of December.
Do you celebrate the 12 days of Christmas?  What do you and your family do??
Holiday, Kindness

Adult Advent Calendar of LOVE

Three years ago for Homemade Christmas (Click HERE to learn more about that), I asked my kids to work on my present a little early and create an Advent Calendar for me.  They share a LEGO Advent Calendar and a beautiful calendar that my mom buys for them each year but I wanted something to help me mark the days of advent.

I gave them 24 envelopes, 24 index cards and 24 tea bags.  They each took 12 and created love notes for me to open each day with a new teabag.  I looked forward each morning to opening my new card.  I loved their notes of love, the excitement on their faces as I opened each one and the effort they put into choosing the perfect tea for that day.  It was the BEST gift I received last Christmas and it lasted 24 days!

Last year they made me another calendar and I added 24 different Yoga With Adriene videos (my yoga hero who is on YouTube for FREE) to go along with my cards and tea.  This advent calendar was a great way for me to take a little time for self-care each day during the busy holiday season!

This Advent Calendar of Love is a wonderful gift for parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles and close family and friends.  You could even save artwork throughout the year to use for the envelopes.  If the recipient is not a tea drinker you could put in a few scratch tickets, a gift certificate for coffee or some “love coupons” in the envelopes.  Spread them out so that they are a nice surprise for the recipient.  This gift is simple but so filled with love.

 

 

Gratitude, Holiday

Gratitude Activities for Kids

“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”

-Willie Nelson

Gratitude is a skill that must be taught to children and developed over time.  We have a bunch of activities on this page to help your child to develop their understanding of gratitude while having a lot of fun.

Gratitude Sticky Notes--We do this in the winter and spring but you could do it anytime of year.  Grab some fun sticky notes (they have many shapes and colors now) and each night have everyone at the table write one thing they are thankful for.  You can invite guests to your house to do the same when they come over.  We stick our notes all over the dining room window and it is fun to see the windows get COVERED in blessings and thanksgivings.

Gratitude Walk--Take a walk as a family and as you walk you can each think about what you are grateful for.  Have you and your children observe things in nature to be grateful for.  You can all call them out as you notice them or save them to share with a snack at the end of your walk or at a half way point.

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Gratitude Scavenger Hunt–This great activity is from Let’s Get Together.  My kids and I are planning to do it as a photo scavenger hunt but you do not have to.  This simple activity encourages EVERYONE in the family to look closely for the blessings all around them.  Click Here to head to their site so you can print out your own Scavenger Hunt.

Learning Through Stories--Reading stories is a WONDERFUL way to teach children about gratitude.  We have a bunch of great books that help children to learn the importance of gratitude and thanksgiving.  Click on the photo above to check out our list of books for teaching gratitude.

The Gratitude Game--We played this fun Gratitude Game from Teach Beside Me, last year at our Kids in Service meetings.  I made our game out of colored popsicle sticks and it was a lot of fun to play with the seniors at the nursing home.  You could keep this game by your dining room table and play during family meal times.

Gratitude Conversation Starters--These FREE Gratitude Conversation Starters by Creative Family Fun will be perfect for family meal times.  I just printed out a set and cut them up and put the papers in a glass mason jar.  I am so excited to use these as conversation starters to help continue to develop my children’s gratitude practice. There are twenty conversation starters in all and can be used again and again throughout the year.

A BEAUTIFUL gratitude video for you and the kids!  

 

 

Gratitude, Holiday

Marking Gratitude with Kids

Gratitude, like empathy, is an important skill that must be taught to children over time. There are many studies that have been done that show that practicing gratitude can increase happiness, improve self-esteem and reduces greed and materialism.  One of the best ways for children to learn the important practice of gratitude, is to model it for them.  Regularly sharing what you are grateful for, helps them to understand the meaning of gratitude.

November is the perfect time to start to put a family gratitude practice in place, as the month centers around the idea of gratitude.  Below you will find ideas that you can try as a family this month.  Many of these gratitude practices can be continued throughout the whole year.

Thankful Turkeys–Thankful turkeys have been around for a long time but we put a fun spin on ours that got all of our friends and family (far and near) involved.  My kids and I created our “naked” turkeys and glued them on poster board.  We then sent out blank feathers to all our friends and family and asked them to write their name and what they were grateful for.

The kids LOVED getting mail all November long and glueing the feathers onto the poster board.   If you wanted to save on postage, you could have your children call or email a new person each day and ask them what they were thankful for and write that on the feather.  It is a great way to connect with those you love and encourage them to stop and think about what they are grateful for too.

Gratitude Tree–We have been doing this activity for a few years and it has become a very important November tradition.  We gather tree branches from outside the day on November 1st and place them in a vase.  We then make paper leaves of different colors and attach a loop of string to each.  Every night, one person gets to write one thing they are thankful for and hang it on the tree.  When my kids were little we had photos of all of us next to the tree and put them order so that the kids would know who’s turn was next. By the end of the month we have a colorful reminder of the many gifts and blessings we have.  I love to see our tree collect leaves all November long as the trees outside lose theirs!

Gratitude Sticky Notes--We do this in the winter and spring but you could easily do it for Thanksgiving.  Grab some fun sticky notes (they have many shapes and colors now) and each night have everyone at the table write one thing they are thankful for.  You can invite guests to your house to do the same when they come over.  We stick our notes all over the dining room window and it is fun to see the windows get COVERED in blessings and thanksgivings.

Turkey on the Table--Have you seen Turkey on the Table yet?  This sweet bird gathers grateful feathers all November long and then sits on your Thanksgiving table, proudly displaying all of the gratitude from the month.  For each Turkey on the Table purchased, they donate 10 meals to Feeding America.  We purchased a turkey for this November (as well as turkeys for my nieces and nephews).
This is not an advertisement for Turkey on the Table, all turkeys were purchased with our own money.

Thankful Jar–For a few years we kept a Thankful Jar during the month of November.  There are LOTS of examples of Thankful Jars on the internet and but I found this cute free printable from Mama Miss.  Family members take turns writing down what they are thankful for and the papers go into the jar.  We use to save the papers in the jar all year and read them aloud on November 1st of the next year.  It was fun for the kids to see the things they had been thankful for the previous November.

Gratitude Journals–When my children were small we kept a Family Gratitude Journal.  Each day we would record the things we were grateful for in the family journal.  Now that my children are older, we each have our own gratitude journals to mark the things we are blessed with.  They are now working through their fourth journals and we love the copy that is above by Crystal Paine.  There is plenty of room for pictures for the young kids who are not yet ready to write what they are grateful for. You can find it on Amazon (this is not an advertisement).

Goodnight Blessings–As you put your children to bed each night, ask them to share with you three things they are grateful for.  You can then share three things that you are grateful for as well.  Thinking about their blessings will be a wonderful way for them to drift off to sleep each night.