I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to teach gratitude to my son. I know that I act as a role model for him but as he grows older, I have also seen the power of his peers and the school environment.
Right now my son’s school offers, to children from Grade 3 onwards, a half hour of religious instruction a week. Children can choose any religion from the half dozen or so on offer, regardless of their actual faith. Alternatively they can choose ‘no religion’ and spend their time reading a book of their choice. I asked the Principal about teaching gratitude to this group since I had heard about other schools undertaking Philosophy for those students who did not wish to be a part of religious studies. Gratitude is central to most religions, but as a concept requires no religious framework. Unfortunately there is a requirement for religious instruction to be taught by approved representatives of a faith group. Bit of a catch-22, since I was proposing ‘not’ teaching a faith but teaching a value. My son’s school is a well-attended public school in a fairly diverse and alternative-thinking suburb. I would hesitate to send him to a faith-based school because I don’t subscribe to a particular faith though many of those schools have a focus on community service. But I admit to feeling as if there is a lack of focus in our school on the importance of giving thanks for what you have in your life and helping those less fortunate than you. Gratitude and compassion should not be reserved only for those who are well-heeled and religious ala Jaime King, Chris Lilley’s obnoxiously generous private school girl.
Then I attended Sunday Assembly Brisbane a few weeks back and it made me remember how I pined for some kind of singing community with a moral compass when I was struggling with Toddler Ethics 101. ‘But Mummy, why do I have to be nice to Jonny?” “Mummy why is it wrong to say ‘bad’ words?” “Mummy does God live in the trees?” I felt like I was running through a minefield of unanswerable questions, picking a route that included excerpts from Buddhism, the Ten Commandments and the old standby of ‘just because’.
Sunday Assembly, often referred to as ‘church for atheists’, has no doctrine, no deity, is inclusive and aims to do good and celebrate life. And it includes singing! I’m hoping it will offer me yet another way to show my son the value of contributing to community as well as give him a broader view of the world.
For those who are interested, I’m compiling a list of books that might be useful for encouraging gratitude in kids. Will post here soon.