How do you teach a four year old to be grateful? My grandmother had always impressed on me the importance of thanking people in writing, but four years olds are not exactly known for their penmanship or spelling. Still, I wanted the children to give something back when they received a gift - something more than an empty thank you.
My solution was to purchase blank greeting cards and let my sons use crayons, pencils, stickers, stamps, and anything he could glue on to the card to decorate them. They would dictate to me the written part of the note, and I began working with them on letter structure; greeting, body, salutation.
In the beginning, I prompted them with questions like "what was your favorite part of having the gift?" The cards would be sent out for each gift received, although sometimes writing the notes would drag on for weeks with a card here and a card there.
As the boys grew older, they took over the written part of the letter. I also laid down a new rule. There is no playing with a gift until the thank you note is in the mail. The notes get written much quicker now.
The thank you notes have had some additional benefits as well:
The children actually take time to look at the gift they receive instead of tossing it aside for the next wrapped surprise.
The children who receive the cards enjoy receiving the mail so much that we get thank you cards for the thank you cards
Mom and Dad spend time with the kids (we learned the hard way not to leave them alone with glue).
The kids enjoy making the cards so much that they look for other opportunities to send cards to family, friends, and neighbors.
Making the kids do their thank-you's prompted Mom to do the same. It is hard to play with my new gifts with them glaring at me from the craft table.
After several years of doing the cards, the boys are getting more creative. They have added poems, inserts, and origami. It is something they (almost) look forward to doing. This last Christmas, my middle son went directly from unwrapping gifts to writing thank you notes.
I am thankful that my grandmother's ideals have managed to seep through to the next generation. Thank you notes are no longer a dying art in our family.