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The Benefits of a Gratitude Jar during the Holidays

This month, we have been partnering with LaDonna Greiner, founder of the Gratitude is Great movement and appreciation-card company, 21 Reasons to Say Thank You. Before Thanksgiving, she shared insight into how to create a low-pressure atmosphere when sharing thanks with friends and family during the holiday meal.  

Today this series continues with her insight into how to cultivate gratitude all throughout the year, through what she calls a Gratitude Jar


Here in the Midwest, the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, and winter inches closer with each passing day.  Thanksgiving has come and gone with its festivities, and now families are preparing for Christmas and the year’s end.

Think back over this year. There were probably both great and grueling days. Moments when you may have thought you would buckle under the chaos of the little ones in your life, and moments when you would simply gaze at them in wonder that they are yours–maybe even in the same day. There were probably moments of pain sometimes coexisting with moments of great joy.  And each of these moments forms together to create the year 2017, another year completed.

It’s so easy to forget. Our minds can only hold so much, and often, our memories can be faulty in even the things we do remember.

LaDonna talks about an idea that not only cultivates a grateful mindset but can also serve as a reminder for the tiny, fleeting but precious moments that our minds don’t always have the capacity to retain.

She recommends creating a family Gratitude Jar, which is simply that: a jar to hold slips of paper that contain good things from throughout the year.  It can be a daily or weekly practice, where each family member writes a phrase, memory or even a word to remember something good with the date.  It could be something as extravagant as a family vacation or something as every day as reading your daughter’s favorite story again, surrounded by Christmas lights on the couch.

Refrain from asking family members to read the slips out loud to everyone, as that may prohibit some from wanting to participate. At the end of the year, everyone will have the opportunity to read and share what good things they wanted to remember from the year.

LaDonna also mentions that December is a good month to start a gratitude jar, as it could help in curbing the “entitlement monster” that might rear it’s head during the holidays.  She says:

“to start by sharing one brief comment about what you are thankful for, the person you are grateful to, and the sacrifice or effort given to provide you with the item or action. You could stimulate a conversation like this, ‘I’m grateful to grandma and grandpa for taking you to school, it’s really nice of them to get out in the cold–I’m sure they would rather stay inside. What do you think?'”

Framing thanks in this way can cultivate a grateful mindset, as well as help children develop stronger empathy–or at least, to hear what it means to consider others’ perspectives if they are still very young.

The container can be a jar or box, and the children can decorate it to really make it their own.

Whether you start a jar or utilize other means of practicing gratitude, as 2017 comes to a close, I hope your awareness of the good things in your life sharpens because there is truly much to be thankful for.

Neuroplasticity, kids’ ideas and everyday creativity

Classroom and creativityWe sat at our metal desks, staring at our teacher, blinking.

“So? What crackpot ideas do you have for me today?” She asked with expectation. It was our first Friday in her communication arts class; our sixth grade selves are unsure of how to respond. Even in public school, it wasn’t every day that a teacher used the word “crackpot” in class.

She saw she wasn’t getting through to us. “Okay, I’ll give you an example. You know how the paparazzi follows celebrities to take their pictures?” We nod, still blinking. “What if we took pictures of people from the paparazzi and made those into trading cards? Then celebrities and others could collect them! See? A crackpot idea. I know you’ve got some, too. What ideas do you have for me today?”

Our blinks turned to nods—we got it. She was asking us for off-the-wall ideas that we thought might just work.

Someone across the room from me perked up. “What about a dog brush that could also be used as a chew toy?”

“Or a thing that makes waffles in the shape of toast!”

Students began voicing their harebrained ideas, some feasible and some downright odd, stretching our young brains and creating space to dream.  Ideas that might be lame or embarrassing in another context suddenly became acceptable, and we gave voice to things we may have otherwise considered not worth speaking aloud.

Crackpot ideas became a part of our Friday routine. Throughout the week, my brain would take note of odd ideas and connections I saw throughout the week, saving them for the weekly exercise. Maybe, just maybe, one of them might work?


Everyday Creativity & the Brain

For some reason, the memory of Crackpot Idea Fridays has stayed with me.  We weren’t entrepreneurs looking for the next business model or artists trying to create their next best work. We weren’t even brainstorming for an assignment or trying to solve a problem.  At the end of each session, we didn’t act on the ideas, and to my knowledge, the teacher never did end up creating those trading cards.  So was it a waste of time? No, not at all.

Those times were opportunities to ideate and be creative just for creativity’s sake, unselfconsciously spouting off odd connections and combinations of ideas and objects, on the off-chance that one might work, whatever that would mean. It was a time to exercise different mental muscles besides those we used for tests, memorization or writing. There was no right answer, no measure to uphold. No preconceived structure or expectations; just space to let our minds wander new paths of thinking.

Measures and tests and structured learning have their place, but opportunities to participate in unfettered creativity infuse these things with new life. They give kids opportunities to practice seeing new connections between everyday things, and these new connections are what drive creative expression and innovation.

The concept of neuroplasticity can speak to why this ability to identify connections between disparate things is so useful. Sarah Bernard of Edutopia and the George Lucas Education Foundation, explains that “if you perform a task or recall some information that causes different neurons to fire in concert, it strengthens the connections between those cells.” As these networks of neurons become stronger, they become more efficient and thereby more capable of identifying relationships between varying subjects. These relationships then increase the brain’s memory storage capacity, increasing a kids’ ability to retain and apply what they learn.

Looking back, I’m not entirely sure of the motivation or end-goal behind the weekly Crackpot Idea time. But as I speculate on this memory that remains so vivid, it seems to have provided a free place to practice what it means to think beyond our brains’ routine “networks” and patterns, which as demonstrated above, played a part in laying a solid foundation for creative learning. And crackpot ideas or not, discovering novel connections between everyday things just seems to make life that much more wonder-full.

Finding Khakis that Fit and Songs about Belonging

Childhood house

I sat scratching at the mud covering my leg, trying not to let the tears leave my eyelids and become visible to my friends nearby.

They were my favorite khakis.

As a slightly pudgy, far-below-average-height fourth-grader, a pair of well-fitting pants were gold.  They were the representation of hours spent combing department store aisles and checking in and out of dressing rooms:

“Fit?” “Doesn’t Fit.” Next one.

“Fit?” “Doesn’t fit.” Next one.

“Fit?” “Doesn’t fit.” Crying now.

“Fit? Doesn’t fit.” Now really crying. “I wanna go home!”

Each pair of pants–especially khakis and jeans–had a meltdown-to-victory story, even if by the end, I just had to keep folding the cuff until the hem was off the ground. (I didn’t have time for tailoring, I guess.)

That day, I had been chasing a classmate around the playground and had jumped over a balance beam to cut them off. Not having gained enough inertia, my foot caught on the beam. In the next second, my knee stopped the fall in the muddy earth, with face and hands close behind.

My new khakis–ruined, from hem to knee cap on the left leg.

Lip trembling, I stood up, trying to keep a brave face.

I didn’t even like the kid I was chasing. (You blame anyone when you face plant and ruin your favorite pants.)

The rest of the day, I gazed down at the muddy leg, each time hoping I would see the pristine khakis there instead.

My new khakis–ruined, from hem to knee cap on the left leg.


Songs about Belonging

Whether it is never being able to find jeans that fit to having a hard time finding a place to fit-in, as kids navigate the challenges of a new school year, it can be helpful for them to know that they are not alone. They have Jesus, friends and family (biological, adopted or church family!) that care about them.

Singing songs together can build unity, as families and friends remember ideas and lyrics that bring back memories.  As the children in your life go back to school, we’ve created this list of songs to help bring back a little joy for the days when things just don’t go like they had hoped or planned.


“Many Good Friends”

When I think of a friend, I think of you. God gives us many good friends.
You can see by my smile that I’m happy inside. God gives us many good friends…


“I Love My Family”

God gave my family to always care for me, to always share with me, to be there for me.
God gave my family to always help me see how to live my life.
I should be like Jesus more and more each day, so I’ll ask my family to help me know the way.


“You Can Talk to God”

You can talk to God when life gets tough.
You can talk to God when the going’s rough.
You can talk to God, for he is enough.
He is near, just call His name.



“God’s Family”

Verse 1
Growing together under His care, knowing this fam’ly will always be there.

Verse 2
Snuggling safely under His wing, He gives us courage to do anything.

We are a part of God’s family, each one a branch on the fam’ly tree,
Growing together just you and me. We are a part of God’s great, big family.



Whatever this year brings, I hope these songs will remind your kids that they are loved, valuable and heard–even when they come home in ruined khaki pants.


Musical ways to reach out to your neighborhood

Gone are the days of asking your next-door neighbor for a cup of sugar, but nevertheless, putting in the effort to reach out to your neighbors can create a greater sense of well-being. 

Neighbors are close in proximity and can serve as a great support system, offering a variety of skill sets and perspectives. Perhaps you can trade your car repair skills for a neighbor’s reupholstery abilities, for example, cutting costs for both families. You and your trusted neighborly friends can watch one another’s kids in an emergency or after school. Your children can learn about other families’ holiday traditions and you can share your own traditions, too.

It can be a challenge to find ways to reach out to neighbors today, but music can open the door to share the love of Christ by inviting others into your everyday life. Here are a few ways to jumpstart your brainstorming:

Dress rehearsal dinner

Perhaps a child in your life tends to get stage fright before school or church plays; chances are, one or two of their friends tend to get nervous as well. Instead of simply encouraging your child to muster up the courage on their own, you can bring in their nervous friends to show the kids how they can work together to be brave.

Reach out to the children’s parents and invite them to a “dress rehearsal dinner” at your home, to share a meal and watch the children perform their lines or songs before the big event. This will enable them to practice in an encouraging environment and create space for the kids to share their fears with one another and commit to standing together in the performance.  They can talk about how they might be able to help each other if one gets scared or forgets their lines.  This will teach the children how to be brave and also to connect with the people around them, as you connect with the parents as well. Who knows—it might even become a tradition worth keeping!

Tiny yard-concert change-raiser

This is a musical lemonade stand for social good! If your kids and/or neighbor children enjoy singing or playing instruments, show them how to use their talents for others’ benefit by hosting a tiny concert in the yard, with lemonade sales to raise money/change for a cause they care about. The “stage” can simply be a couple of chairs or perhaps the front steps or porch of the house.  You can print off simple advertisements to post around the neighborhood with the kids or use social media to reach out to your neighbors if you’re connected with them online.

On the day of the tiny “event”, the kids can set up the table for hot chocolate or lemonade and then play their favorite songs. You can encourage the kids to reach out to the neighbors that come by, with your supervision. At the end of the allotted time, you can count the donations raised through the kids’ musical venture, and then send a follow up to the neighborhood and celebrate their willingness to serve.

Mini music club

The American Psychological Association cites Dr. Daniel J. Levitin’s research which says that listening to and playing music increases antibody production in the body’s immune system, as well as decreases the stress hormone, cortisol.  Children face a variety of stressors as they grow up and music can be a healthy means of stress relief, providing them with a fun and relaxing way to cope with life’s challenges. Though disciplined practice definitely has a valuable place, music can also be a form of play for children as they simply play music for the fun of it.

One way to reach out to your neighborhood is to invite a few neighbor friends over to join the musical club once a week or month with their kazoos, guitars, recorders, keyboards or other instruments to sit and play together. The music they create might not sound pleasant, but it will give the kids an opportunity to practice playing and creating together as a team.  You can help them obtain the chords to a favorite song to learn together or show them the basics of how to improvise on the spot.  Children that might not have other exposure to music can learn along with the others in a low-pressure environment, much like the porch-pickers of years past. If they spend their childhood practicing music consistently with friends, who knows what they could create as they get older?

You can also invite the children’s parents to a periodic “concert” to showcase the kids’ creations or even invite them to participate in the club themselves, if they are musicians, composers or vocalists. It can be as organized or simple as fits with your current season, being just an hour on the porch once a week or something more elaborate.


What challenges have you faced in reaching out to your neighbors? When is a time when someone has reached out to your family? How did your family interact with neighbors growing up and what was the effect of that interaction/lack of interaction?

Beans, Drama and and Other Everyday Creativity Practices

Cultivating Creativity in Kids

Click Image to Tweet!


“I’m boooooooored!”

Ever heard that from one of your kids?

“Only those with unimaginative minds are bored!” I’d retort to my
daughters. “It’s time to be creative!”

“Only those with unimaginative minds are bored!”(Click to Tweet) 

Here are 3 tips for introducing new creativity to your children:

1) Act out a favorite song complete with costumes, props and dramatic

2) Work on math skills by keeping a plastic bag of beans in your purse.
When waiting at the doctor’s office, pull the bag out and ask your child
to count out a certain number of beans. Introduce adding and subtracting
with them. (It doesn’t have to be beans. Anything…coins, Legos, etc.)

3) Look for a particular shape, letter and number all throughout the
day. Say, “Today’s shape is a circle, the letter is ‘C’ and the number
is ‘4’!” As you take walks, go to the store, wash dishes, play in the
back yard ask your child if she sees any of these things.

Creative thinking takes practice and these are just a few ways to incorporate thinking outside of the box into your everyday life.

What do you find effective in teaching kids to be creative? What do you think hinders their creativity?