When I was in graduate school, I had a professor who closed every email with the word, "Cheers." It caught my attention and offered a sense of celebration for the work we were doing together. It also begged the question, "How should I close an email?" The signature line never seemed adequate on its own. It wasn't until I began working at Wheeling Country Day School that I found closure for that question.
As I finished my first email to parents in 2009, I felt a deep gratitude that I had been given the opportunity to serve Wheeling Country Day School. Keeping it simple, I closed that message by saying, "Thanks." For the past two years I have ended every email with that same word. Thanks. Maybe there was nothing in particular that requires gratitude in a given email, but to anyone I am writing, I am asking for their time in some way, so it makes sense to be thankful and to continue to share that gratefulness.
Because I have been doing this regularly for two years, the idea of gratitude is on my mind quite often. It turns out that the word "thanks" comes from the same root as the word "to think." I like the idea that gratitude and thinking come from a similar root. What a wonderful juxtaposition to share with young children. As parents and teachers we are cognizant of children using their best manners of "please" and "thank you," but we might want to take more time to share with young children the reasons that this is important. We might want to give them pause to think about their manners. Why do we say "please"? What is the meaning of "thank you"? Why is an expression of gratitude important?
Even as adults, gratitude is sometimes nothing more than a habit. How often do we say "thank you" without really thinking about our appreciation for someone else's time, advice or thoughtfulness? To be sure, the gift of writing thank-you notes is a lost art. That may just be a great place to start a time to sit down with a child and talk about appreciation while he or she writes a thank you note. I would even suggest doing so in response to a kind gesture or perhaps to a teacher rather than limiting that ritual to thank-you notes for birthday or holiday gifts.
As early as age 3 children can begin learning the meaning behind the words "thank you," rather than just the habit of good manners. A 3- -year-old may not be able to write the note yet, but he or she can certainly draw a picture or dictate his/her thanks to an adult or older sibling. You can make an impression on a child of this age by discussing how much the note or the picture will mean to the recipient.
By school age, writing thank-you notes is a great practice for writing skills. It offers a new audience and great practice at letter writing and envelope addressing - skills that too few children have mastered.
Of course, the best teachers of gratitude are the parents and teachers that our young children love to imitate. Hearing you say "please" and "thank you" to children and adults alike sets a perfect example for young children to follow. Making a point to share with your child when you take the time to write a thank-you note gives them the impression that it matters.
We all have a great deal for which we are thankful. Carrying that gratitude in our hearts and articulating that appreciation helps us remember how closely we are all interconnected and how much we do for one another day in and day out. We can easily help children understand this.
Is there any other way to end this article, but to say Thanks.
- Linda Krulock graduated from West Liberty State College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and early childhood. She teaches senior kindergarten at Wheeling Country Day School. Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini is head of school at Wheeling Country Day. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Education.