The Lower School’s “Attitude of Gratitude”

Brenda Crawley at morning carpool

The lower school years are amazing. They are the years of innocence, curiosity and sheer delight. It’s that precious time that precedes the rollercoaster ride through pre-adolescent and adolescent angst, when the social landscape changes into rocky, unchartered territory. These early years are when children try to make sense of the big world around them, how things fit together, what they can predict and who they can rely on. When our children begin their learning journeys, they start packing their self-advocacy toolkits. Yet, while we hope they will grow to be self-sufficient and independent in time, we have to recognize how important it is that they acknowledge their dependency on others.  How can we simultaneously expect our children to meet the challenge of self-sufficiency while acknowledging their dependency?  The simple response is gratitude.

If you’ve had the pleasure of driving through morning carpool this month, you’ve noticed that we’ve asked the children to thank the driver for the ride to school. Though initial reactions included smirks, uncomfortable giggles and grumpy early morning silence, the practice of being grateful and expressing gratitude is becoming contagious. Imagine someone saying to you, “Don’t forget to thank the driver! Until you can drive yourself to school, you need to thank the person who got you here safely!”  Granted, many parents may have doubted my motives… (“I’m not quite sure about that new lower school head. She’s a little too perky in the morning!”) But admit it: it feels wonderful to have your child take the time to acknowledge what you’ve done for them.  It feels good to be appreciated.

Let’s take this notion to a broader scale. It’s a given that lower school educators are a rare breed. We are all about the business of growing a community of lifelong learners.  That said, as we work on the academic growth of each child we are simultaneously working on each child’s skills for life. When else, but during these early school years, do children learn to button their jackets, carry their backpacks, share sand toys and organize their cubbies? Some of the truly teachable moments include the lessons that aren’t in the books and on the worksheets. While working through the academic curriculum, we also have to take responsibility for the “social curriculum.” It comes down to not only growing good learners, but good people. One step further: good people are able to see the good done for them.

For those of you who think that this is a lesson in manners, I concede the point and offer a nod. Having been raised by southern parents, manners and good etiquette were not optional. There was no debate. It was critical to possess and display what my mother called “good home training” at all times. You thanked those who provided for you. You were grateful, no matter how small the gift. Only with the passage of decades have I learned that gratitude goes deeper than manners.  In order to be grateful, we have to recognize the gift—whatever that gift may be. When we recognize the driver, the meal-maker, the coat-buttoner, the snack-baker, don’t we recognize the gift? By offering gratitude, we communicate our understanding that in some way, “I needed you and you came through for me.” So where is the lesson?  Truly I’m not promoting the idea that our children need to spend their waking hours groveling in thanks for every little thing that others do for them. I’m also not suggesting that we guilt our children into empty chants of “thank you” just to make their adult caretakers feel appreciated. However, I am suggesting that we reveal to children the supportive community that cares for them. We are all important enough to be cared for; and those who offer that care are equally important. The endpoint is an understanding that we all have a role in caring for each other; and that care merits thanks. Gratitude.  What better way to create an understanding of the importance of every individual in a community? When we express gratitude, we acknowledge a gift, and we give a gift. That is a skill for life. It comes back to growing good people.

Not long after I arrived at SSFS, I heard a buzz about the “Island of Courtesy” in the middle school. What at first appeared to be a catch phrase and then a snappy slogan for a t-shirt quickly registered as an important skill for life. Is it such a radical notion to reinforce the importance of being courteous and being nice to others? No more radical than seeing that of God in everyone.  The first step on the journey to that Island of Courtesy begins in lower school, with an Attitude of Gratitude.

2 comments to The Lower School’s “Attitude of Gratitude”

  • Martha Hale

    A few days before I read this blog, Brenda, I told the mother of two of the lower school children (my grandchildren) that I was so impressed with all the thank you comments I had been receiving from her children recently. It was amazing! Well, I still think my daughter and her husband are amazing parents but now I know that the children are receiving this message from their school as well and I am very grateful. Thank you!

  • Jen Cort

    May our students find the journey to be filled with innumerable moments to be grateful, in the truest sense of the word. The attitude of gratitude creates is the perfect pathway to the “Island of Courtesy” and far beyond.

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