“Have you written a ‘thank you’ to your aunt for your birthday present?” 

“Be sure to hug Grandma and tell her ‘thank you’ for the Christmas gift.” “Oh, you don’t like what we’re having for dinner? I think what you really mean is, ‘Oh, thank you, mom, for providing a meal for me while hundreds of children in the world go hungry.’” 

Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. How this virtue was instilled in me by my parents growing up! “Why is saying ‘thank you’ SO important to my parents?” I often wondered. Even as a young Sister in the novitiate, I was amazed at how frequently our Sisters made/wrote thank you cards for everyone and for everything, no matter how small the gift! Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Why is this virtue so important? Well, when I became a primary school teacher and “spiritual mother” to more than a dozen children I quickly learned the answer… 

The purpose of gratitude 

For a Dominican Sister, teaching the virtues is key to the formation of our students, and since we can’t teach what we don’t know and  we should “practice what we preach,” I realized that I had to know and model the virtues in my own life before I could start teaching my students. I learned that gratitude is a “thankful disposition of mind and heart,” and I recalled the old saying, “A grateful heart is a happy heart.” As a result, I decided to make it a point each day to thank God for every blessing, no matter how small it seemed. Doing so, I thought, must make me into an even happier person, and would you believe it? It certainly did! I quickly realized that every good thing is a gift from God, and that gifts are freely given. We are most undeserving of God’s riches and goodness, and yet He continuously lavishes us with them simply because He loves us! In the light of such incredible mercy and love, one can’t help but be humbled and say with all one’s heart, “Thank you, Jesus!” Truly, the fruit of gratitude is joy, and more than anything, I wanted others to share in this experience too! Thus, I decided that this was to be the first virtue I would teach my students; and rightly so, for by the third week of school I was bombarded with, that’s right, the “why” questions: 

“Sister, WHY do we have to have homework?” 

“Sister, WHY can’t we have recess all day?” 

“Sister, WHY can’t we take naps like we used to in preschool?”  

“Sister, WHY can’t we have a sloth for a class pet instead of a fish?”  

 “Sister, WHY do I have to eat my grapes before my cookies?” 

Oh yes, “gratitude” would be our very first lesson! 

Define the virtue 

I begin this lesson as I do with every virtue—by defining it. Gratitude is a “thankful disposition of mind and heart.” I go over this definition with my students and then ask them, “Who are some people or what are some things in your life that you are most thankful for?” We then make a class list (family, friends, pets, food, toys, etc.), and I explain that these items we listed are indeed gifts, and that a gift is something that is freely given and not earned. “Who gave us these gifts?” I ask. “God,” my students reply. I explain that one receives gifts because he/she is loved by another, and the greatest gift we all receive is none other than Jesus Himself (how God loves us)! Then, I ask how Jesus gives Himself to us as “gift” (e.g. as a Baby at Christmas, in His sacrifice on the Cross for us, in the Holy Eucharist). I ask my students, “Did we earn this Gift?” The students shake their heads. “Of course not,” I reply, while presenting a crucifix and/or an image of the Holy Eucharist, “Jesus freely gives Himself to us out of love for us!” This profound knowledge humbles the hearts and minds of the children, and their eyes are suddenly opened to just how good our God truly is, as well as the gifts He showers us with.  

How to express thanks 

“Do we owe God a big ‘thank you?’” I ask. The students nod their heads vigorously. “What are some ways we can show our thanks to God for all the good things He gives us?” They then come up with an extensive list, often like the following: 

  • Spend time with God in prayer each day 
  • Read the Bible 
  • Go to Mass and adoration 
  • Receive Jesus in a “spiritual communion”   
  • Sing hymns to Jesus in the tabernacle  
  • Write a “thank you” letter to God in our prayer journals 
  • Make a list of our gifts and think of/pray for those who are less fortunate 

I remind the students that God teaches us that we are called to love Him in our neighbor as well. I ponder aloud, “I wonder: are there ways we can express our thanks to God through our neighbor? Let’s brainstorm some ways we can do this in a couple of places: at home with our family and at school with our teachers and classmates.” The students then come up with a long list like the following: 


  • Tell parent(s) “thank you” for meals 
  • Tell parent(s) “thank you” for taking me to my sports practices/games 
  • Help with household chores (help fold laundry, take out trash, clean bedroom, etc.)  
  • Do homework without complaining 
  • Stick “virtue Post-It notes” for family members on fridge  
  • Give parent(s)/siblings hugs 
  • Make a list of gifts with your family and think of/pray for those who are less fortunate 
  • Create a “charity basket” with your family to give to the less fortunate 


  • Tell teacher(s) “thank you” for every gift received (pencils, papers, scissors, extra recess time, etc.) 
  • Tell cafeteria helpers/recess monitors, “Thank you for your time.” 
  • Tell visitors, “Thank you for visiting.” 
  • Tell the bus driver, “Thank you for picking me up.” 
  • Write random “thank you” cards to teachers, staff, and administration  
  • Keep the bathrooms clean and tidy to show gratitude for our custodian 
  • Take care of our school supplies 
  • Stick “I’m thankful for” Post-It notes on classroom bulletin board, describing classmates’ acts of kindness  

Grateful hearts 

Once we come up with our lists, we make it a class goal to fill up our “gratitude jar.” That is, for every word or act of gratitude, our class will place a marble inside the jar to show how much we’ve grown in this virtue. This is a terrific visual, and the students get really excited while watching their progress. Even more excitingly (and more importantly), the students find themselves growing not just in one virtue, but in countless others simultaneously (generosity, kindness, affability, and humility, to name a few), for as the saints teach us, when one grows in one virtue, he/she grows in all the others!   

What began as an atmosphere of self-absorption accompanied with a litany of “why’s” and complaints soon become an atmosphere of self-sacrifice, immense freedom and indescribable joy! Even beneath the weight of heavy crosses, I’ve witnessed children with the most grateful hearts whisper, “I love you, Jesus. Thank you for allowing me to join you on the Cross.” It’s these most courageous souls that will always seek and find something to be grateful for, even in the midst of their very own suffering, and therefore find peace and, dare I say, bliss…. They understand that even the very act of suffering, having been “redeemed” by Jesus’ own, has something good to offer, as hard as that lesson can be. Truly, these “smallest ones” know that a grateful heart truly is a happy heart! 

Sr. Maria Kolbe, O.P., currently teaches 2nd Grade at Spiritus Sanctus Academy, Plymouth. To get more ideas like the “Virtue Post-It Notes” activity, visit our Idea Bank

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