Children’s story time was being held in our local library on the weekend. The book being narrated was “The Very Fairy Princess Attitude of Gratitude” picture book by Julie Andrews & Emma Walton Hamilton. The librarian sat down with the children and started to read. The librarian asked the children questions pertaining to the content on various pages as she progressed through the book. As the story developed we came across a section in the story where the teacher, Mr. Bonario purchases a piece of artwork that was painted by the main character of the story, Gerry. Gerry had painted the picture with an idea in mind however the artwork was interpreted by others as something else and some children teased her for it. This left Gerry feeling inadequate and sad. Gerry’s teacher saw multiple meanings when he viewed the painting and purchased the artwork for others to view and enjoy, in particular Gerry’s best friend who was away on that day.
A child in the group, approximately the age of 7 or 8, stopped the librarian mid sentence and with eyes wide open said “See that, the teacher is a very kind man.” The librarian asked him why he thought the teacher was kind as it was just a piece of student artwork the teacher was purchasing. The young boy looked at the librarian with shock. “Don’t you get it? That teacher saw different things in the artwork and thinks Gerry is very cool to have painted a picture that has lots of different meanings. On top of that he knows Gerry is upset because her friend isn’t there to see it and wants Gerry to know she is not alone.”
I was shocked. I sat there as the librarian thanked him for his contribution and wise words and continued with the story. The young boy had quickly defined the act of gratitude in the story as the Teacher purchasing artwork so others could appreciate looking at it, and also to support a child who on the day was feeling very alone. Howells (2012, p. 49) states “ Our gratitude practice, could help us develop our character if we adopted it as a means in itself, not looking at the outcomes beyond practice.” Is this what the teacher was doing by purchasing the picture and providing opportunity for Gerry to feel value from another person in her time of need? Adams (as cited in Howells, 2012, p. 70) quote “A teacher effects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” rings true in this example. Mr Bonario’s selfless actions of that day may indeed project further acts of gratitude in years to come when Gerry finds herself in a similar situation and reflects on her own experiences to get her through the present one. Acts of gratitude bring forth further acts of gratitude.
This experience left me with lots of questions. How did the child in the library understand the concept of gratitude? Was he being taught in school soft acts of gratitude and therefore his learning of gratitude was now identifiable? Did he learn gratitude at home? Researching how children are taught the acts of gratitude I came an interesting article by Jeffrey Froh discussing ways in which we can encourage gratitude in children.
Froh discusses encouraging children to help others and nurture relationships. Froh (2014) states “When children lend a hand, especially while using their strengths, they feel more connected to those they’re helping, which helps them to develop and nurture friendships and social relationships.” Andrews & Hamilton’s book: The Very Fairy Princess Attitude of Gratitude, provides examples on how the children may do this through their activities of daily living and engage with others so their willingness to help and develop friendships becomes part of their individual character.
Educating our children to act in meaningful way leads to adults living a life connected to others. From here great things can happen. The challenge is to understand what gratitude is, how it is practiced and the basis of its teaching. Whilst the subject of gratitude is not taught as dedicated subject in school curricular, it is imperative that the children are exposed to the theory of gratitude, be free to explore its depth and meaning to them and be given opportunity to practice it.