Kids love traditions. Whether it's something as simple as Friday Slurpees (a tradition that is enthusiastically kept in our household) or as extravagant as vacation destinations, kids thrive off of the routine of having special things to regularly look forward to. The repetition of the activity helps solidify memories that will last a lifetime. Kids will hardly remember something that only happened one time in the life of your family (unless it was a major event) but the traditions and the repetition will be the memories they carry with them into adult life.
One tradition that our kids have come to cherish and look forward to every year is the Thankful Tree. We did our first Thankful Tree in 2010 when our girls were 3 and 2. Since then the Thankful Tree has been a staple in our home every November.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night.
The Thankful Tree is a "tree" we make in our home every year in the month of November that helps us pause and think through how much we have to thank God for. Of course we are regularly praising and thanking God daily, in prayer and conversations, but this is a special way for us to be even more purposeful and thoughtful in pausing to consider his unending kindness toward us.
Our "tree" has taken many different shapes over the years. From drawing on poster board, to a pre-made cardboard tree, to last year a vase full of sticks, we've had fun being creative with making a new tree every year!
Our first Thankful Tree. November 2010.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits...
That first Thankful Tree in November 2010 was born out of a desire to teach our kids to have a thankful heart long before Thanksgiving Day. I wanted to show them just how many "benefits" he has given to us; how kind and generous God is to us. The goal is to prepare their hearts, and our hearts as parents, for sitting down on Thanksgiving Day being able to more wholly understand how great our thanksgiving should be toward God, since he himself gives us life and breath and everything else (Acts 17:25).
My husband taught a special Thanksgiving message a few years ago in Kids Ministry. He had all the
Elementary students add a leaf to the tree at the end of each service (see behind him on the wall). I think there were
over 300 leaves on that tree by the end of the weekend!
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
When our girls were younger, the Thankful Tree helped reinforce WHO it is that we express our thanks to. The world expresses gratitude and thanks this time of year, but their expressions are typically not directed to anyone. It is important as Christian parents that we continually direct our children to know who the Giver of every good and perfect gift is.
Thankful Tree 2016
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
Every evening, beginning on November 1st and going all the way through the 30th, each member of the family picks one new thing they are thankful to God for. We then write each item on a "leaf" of the tree and the phrase always begins with, "Thank you, God for..." The rule in our home is that the same person can not pick the same thing twice. Another rule in our home is that visitors must participate! Family, friends, and small group members have all added their leaves to our trees over the years. It is always an incredible thing to see over 120 leaves on the tree, each a testimony to the loving kindness of our great God!
Thankful Tree 2017.
This is just one way that we have found to be effective, helpful, and even fun in taking not just Thanksgiving Day, but the entire month of November to truly consider all the ways God has been so kind to us. If you don't have a method or tradition yet, give this one a try! However it is you choose to help your children (and yourself) really grasp the magnitude of how much God has done for us, don't miss the opportunity that this time of year presents to really solidify this in your family members' hearts and minds.