Make a Gratitude Tree Next Thanksgiving
At our family Thanksgiving gathering we made a Gratitude Tree.
Earlier in the day my five year old granddaughter had painted the trunk of the tree on a piece of poster paper I had rolled up and carried to San Diego in my suitcase. She used paintbrushes and brown and green poster paint – which I had packed in my suitcase in a large zip log bag – to create her vision of a “Thank you Tree.” At her request I sketched the trunk and branches with a pencil, but she made several changes as she painted so in the end it was truly her own.
In order to make a safe place for her to paint in his not-yet-child-safe home, (his firstborn is only 7 weeks old) my son, Bean’s uncle, created a painting studio in his garage out of a large packing box. He taped the poster paper to the tall side of the box so that it would be the right height and wouldn’t slip as she painted. He flattened another box and placed it on the garage floor as a drop cloth.
Finally, he cut arm and neck holes out of a plastic kitchen trash bag to make a painting smock and pulled it over Bean’s head, explaining to her that this plastic bag trick must only be played with a grownup present.
This part of the activity kept a very excited little girl engaged for nearly an hour, at which point she burst into the kitchen where her mother was busily working on her special cornbread stuffing and roasted Brussels sprouts to tell her what she had been doing. Mom sent a pleading look in my direction and after a few minutes I led Bean upstairs to “help Grandma make the leaves.”
Gratitude Comes in Many Forms
I had downloaded and printed several pages of leaf outlines from the internet (I Googled “leaves coloring pages”). Here’s one example of what is available.
Using old fashioned carbon paper, we transferred the pages to green, red, and orange construction paper (you guessed it, transported in Grandma’s suitcase), then set about cutting out the leaves. Bean is, after all, only five, so she needed to take frequent breaks. During one of them we went downstairs to watch her new baby cousin for a while. During another she went looking for her uncle’s dog to play with.
At one point when boredom hit, we used counting bears (they actually live in my suitcase), to calculate how many leaves we would need if everyone had four things to be thankful for. Then we counted how many we had made already and figured out how many more we still had to make.
A loud groan at that point alerted me that we’d hit the limit of Bean’s interest and patience, so I sent her downstairs to ask her aunt for a felt pen and a basket to put the leaves in and declared that we were done.
All in all the activity kept Bean out of the kitchen for more than two hours, making the cooks very happy, and giving her a leading role in the long festive dinner to come. During the meal she made sure that the basket of leaves kept circulating around the table, and every once in a while would pop up to collect the leaves that had been written on and glue them to the tree.
We began the adult contribution to this table activity by asking everyone to write one thing for which they were grateful on a leaf. Then we sent the basket around again and suggested everyone take another leaf “in case something else occurs to you.” Eventually people were asking for the basket to be passed back to them just like the bowl of mashed potatoes.
We never got around to talking as a group about the things we were grateful for – I had planned to do that, but we were all having so much fun it just never happened. But for the next three days I saw people stopping by the tree to read what the leaves said. We had chosen a spot to hang the tree which was right by the table where we ate all our meals and it continued to be at the center of our family celebration. And when we all went on a long walk on Saturday morning, many of the one on one conversations centered around what we had written on those leaves.
We have so very many blessings, and this simple activity helped us to realize it.
Make Your Own Gratitude Tree
This is a simple activity to do, with a little advance preparation. Here are the supplies you’ll need:
About a yard of poster paper (or easel paper, sold at most art supply and office supply stores), and tape to fasten it to a vertical surface that is safe for painting.
- A pencil to sketch a tree outline.
- A small bottle each of brown and green washable tempra paint.
- Two paint brushes, one wide, one narrow.
- A fresh glue stick
- One or two sheets of carbon paper
- Printed sheet of small leaf outlines
- A half dozen or so 8 x 10 sheets of colored construction paper
- A fine-pointed Sharpie permanent marker for adult use
- Two or three pairs of sharp scissors, one of the appropriate size for each child or adult cutting out leaves. (I cut out a dozen or so before leaving home just to make sure I had enough)
Most of these items can be transported in a 9 x 12 manila envelope.
If you want some help with the tree and branches, there are many patterns on the internet. Google “tree outlines to print.”
Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving activity? Please tell us about it.