Holiday Idea: Writing Gratitude Letters with the Kids

While the girls have always been very polite and sincere in expressing gratitude when receiving physical gifts during holidays and throughout the year--we wanted to take that expression of gratitude just a little further this year.  This year, we are writing letters of gratitude for years of other gifts.  Gifts of encouragement, gifts of time, gifts of character.   My family has been fortunately graced with the presence of many wonderful people in our lives over the years.  This year, we are going to take some time and write some very important gratitude letters.  

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While we hope that the people who have touched our lives are aware of our appreciation--we want to make sure that those special people know just how important they have been and what an impact they have made on our lives.  Some of these people were teachers or mentors that we haven't seen in years.  Some are parents of friends who made us feel like family.  Some are old bosses or coworkers who hold special places in our hearts and memories.  This holiday activity could (and should) certainly be done during any time of the year--but, I think the holidays offer a perfect opportunity to teach children the value of gratitude and the importance of expressing that gratitude.

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What are we using to write our gratitude letters?

We are skipping the emails and the text or instant messages.

While I could print a festive border on the desktop printer paper--I opted to buy holiday stationary.

Then, I found some lined stationary paper for the kids to use--just to make things easier and neater for those hands that really do not WRITE much these days. 

We bought some good ballpoint pens and some letter sized envelopes and chose special stamps at the post office.

Then it was time to get to work.

Things to consider when writing gratitude letters.

Share some specific details and memories in your letter.  What may have been trivial to the person receiving your letter--may have meant the world to you.  They deserve to know that.  It mattered to me that a high school English teacher let me go out into left field on writing assignments--and, she read what I wrote--without condemning what I thought.  Even if my interpretation of whatever we were writing about was not one that she (or her training or her textbooks) would have considered acceptable.  I once compared Beowulf to Jesse James in a compare/contrast from our class Beowulf novel to a modern day hero..and turned it into a study of flawed heroes in general..and she read my viewpoints as a document--and graded that document without bias.   Bias was always present in our small town--and what freshman in the '90's knew anything about Jesse James anyway??  I didn't appreciate her as much as I should have then.  I do now.

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The length of the letter doesn't matter.  Whether, short and sweet or in-depth--it is truly the thoughts that count in these letters!  Every year, the senior orchestra students at our school give speeches after their last concert.  They end those speeches with thank-you's--to parents friends, family, teachers--anyone who made a difference in their school orchestra lives.  Sometimes, simply saying a teacher was a "2nd mom" speaks volumes.  Sometimes, the student feels the need to say, "You were always riding me to practice and to come to class--and that made all of the difference."  Say what you feel that you need to say.  You are enough and your letter is enough.

Don a detective hat to get those addresses.  If it has been many years and many moves have come and gone--you may have to do some research to find those long lost folks.  It is not usually impossible with so much information online!  Network, branch out, scour social media--use the (gasp) telephone book or ask family and friends who may have the person's current address.  If all else fails--turn to Facebook and message the person.  Send the whole letter if need be.  

Don't worry or doubt.  What if she doesn't remember me?  What if he thinks it's silly?  What if I sound stupid? Don't worry.  At. All.  It is okay to share your feelings--especially in a time when so much is "behind a screen" away from human interaction.  While it is so important for you to share your gratitude with the special people in your life so that they understand how much they are appreciated--it's important to share your real, human feelings with them as well.  If she doesn't remember you--it may encourage her to look back or reflect.  He probably won't think your thoughts are silly.  He will probably enjoy hearing them.  You won't sound stupid.  You will sound thoughtful. You will sound real.  

Be prepared for a response--but, expect nothing.  Some of your recipients will reach out to you with their own words of thanks or their own memories or praise of you.  Sometimes it is hard to receive praise--so you should be prepared to be that gracious recipient.  Some of your letters will go to people who do read them and are heart warmed by your messages--but, are not able to accept that praise.  These letters are not written for you to seek praise--but, rather for you to ensure that another person's kind gestures are recognized.  You may receive praise because that person saw you worthy of their gestures in some way.  You may not receive any response at all--but, should know that your words may have brought a smile or a memory to a special person.

So--while this is a slightly unusual holiday activity for our holiday idea calendar--I think it is a very wonderful, annual tradition to start.

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