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Thanks. Giving. A Perspective on Both from a Teacher and Nutrition & Health Coach

Posted Nov 25 2013 11:58am

thankful Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach.

I’m going to interrupt my normal health info barrage with a little segment to pay tribute to a holiday that I feel is sadly becoming a dying tradition in our country.  Stay tuned next week for the promised follow-up segment on my favorite products to use, part 2.

Ah, Thanksgiving…. The time of year that “kicks off” the holidays, but really seems to be turning more and more into the proverbial thick white starting line at the race for a hectic, materialistic and sales-driven period when people grow more and more harried and disconnected.  I think back to when I was a kid and Thanksgiving meant four things to me: some time off from school, an awesome day with all of our family and friends, the first time my mom would buy egg nog for the year (I am a legit egg-nog addict), and being able to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on T.V.  Of course we always focused on why we were off from work and school, gathered together, and so fortunate to have all that we had.  I even relished in the historical stories and activities in school about the native inhabitants of our great land and the “explorers” who “joined” them (yes, I am trying to be sarcastic with my quotation marks here…hah).  It seemed like our teachers really took great time and effort to emphasize this holiday and actually teach about the history behind it, why we should be “thankful” on Thanksgiving, and engage in activities that unified our classroom like a little family (and who can argue over how awesome those construction paper pilgrim hats and Native American feather headdresses are?!?).  Now, I feel classrooms hardly have time to even mention Thanksgiving, no or less focus on teaching about why it exists in America (and I am saying this as a former teacher who has been there, done that).  Rather, kids are counting the seconds until they bust out of school, all the while making lists about Black Friday sales they are going to dominate….and not even on “Black Friday” anymore, but on Thanksgiving day itself.  Making their organized lists, likes, and requests on smartphones fancier than mine, kids seem to lose the real nuggets of what makes this holiday season awesome – whether one celebrates or not.  This brings me to my point in writing this article in the first place: focusing on being grateful and generous in our lives daily.  These components of life actually contribute just as importantly as eating a healthy diet and practicing healthy lifestyle habits.  When I work with clients, focusing on gratitude and shifting one’s thought process to that of being grateful daily works wonders, but is often a major challenge, as we live in a society that drives us to see the deficit to “motivate” us to want more.

Some of my greatest teaching memories that I am most thankful for are the ones from the Thanksgiving activities I would prepare throughout the month of November.  As
teachers, we are always looking for ways to integrate different content, curriculum goals, learning styles…you name it – into everything that we teach on a daily basis so that concepts are applied and over-arching.  Many of these things you can do at home with your children, and I guarantee you’ll love it, in addition to teaching your kids some pretty valuable lessons.  In my classroom, we would have instruction breaking down math and measurement into Thanksgiving recipes that kids would develop and write out step-by-step (and also incorporating learning about healthy ingredients!); everyone would write a daily “Thanks”/gratitude journal entry; we would practice community-building activities with each other, and by the end of the month, it was amazing the shift I saw in behavior.

The last year I taught (2010-2011) was one of the most memorable “Thanksgiving” times I think I will ever have.  I was teaching 5th grade in a very diverse (and often challenging) classroom with children who came from every situation imaginable – very stable homes to three separate students who were living in a group foster home.  “Congruity” is definitely not the word to describe this group – and it was perfect, for that is what made the experience so much more meaningful.  I had some kids who still believed in Santa and other kids who knew how to break into and steal a car at a moment’s notice.  How the heck could I pull off something that these kids would really come together for and learn a great deal from?  So, I just came out and said, “You’re all in charge of planning a Thanksgiving dinner for the entire second grade and I am just here to observe and help buy what you need.”  Seeking the usual teacher-directed list of what to do next, the students looked at me like I was crazy, and I just stood there and said, “No…it’s all up to you.  You are hosting every second-grader in the school for a family-style Thanksgiving meal here in our classroom.”  More blank stares.  I explained to them that they would have to decorate, prepare and cook everything (we had a classroom on campus equipped with stoves and cooking equipment), and run the show.  Some students came up with comments like, “Well, my mom does all of the cooking, so I have no idea what to do.”  Another student said, “I have never been able to celebrate Thanksgiving because we are too poor.”  Placing all faith and trust in my kids, I explained to them that they had to think about everything they would want to make this experience feel like a family affair –whatever that meant to them – and special ways they could express what they are thankful and grateful for.  Within a few minutes and piles of crayons, markers, rolls of art paper, and pencils tossed on the floor, these kids went to work (still in shock over the independence I instilled in them, of course) planning their meal.  It took them a solid three to four days to come up with lists of recipes, directions, décor plans, invitations for the second-graders, etc.  I was honestly shocked at how these kids pulled everything together…cooperatively…and I think it was because they were given a task that embraced their independence and varying backgrounds.  We used math to convert recipes for a large crowd; language arts skills came in full-force for the invitations, menus, lists of directions, and decorations.  I went out and bought whatever ingredients these kids needed, with the help from some other teachers, and some kids really got the “gratitude” concept and pilfered through their cabinets at home to see what they could donate.  It was amazing to capture the expressions on some of the kids’ faces as they listened to each other and the different stories they shared about their holiday experiences.  These kids connected and learned more about each other during this time than any playground hoopla that could have occurred all year.  When some students explained that their families didn’t have anything extra for the holidays, it really hit home to the other kids who were lucky to experience such luxuries at their home…and this is when really understanding what gratitude was about came to light.

Celebration day.  These students got to work mid-day and never skipped a beat – I was seriously in awe over how they all pulled together, divvied tasks, delegated, led, shared, and experienced.  Desks came together to form a giant table down the entire classroom.  Paper shopping bags were recycled to make a table cloth; decorations were made with care by several students and strewn about the room; teams of kids paired off with their cooking tasks to prepare everything from pie to mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey slices, vegetables, and snacks.  I just stood back, watched, observed, and called out time checks like they were all contestants on Top Chef.  The time came for all of the second-graders to come for their feast and they were escorted into the room, welcomed, and embraced like family by each one of my students.  The kicker for me was the student who got in the most trouble day-in-and-out, was in and out of foster homes, and normally least-engaged in the classroom was the one who seemed to step-up most.  He even led the welcome speech and his version of a Thanksgiving blessing – it blew me away to hear this kid who literally came from and had nothing explain what it meant to be grateful and thankful.  Every eye in the room was on him as he spoke, and I could tell that he felt like he had just won the lottery.  To say this was a humbling experience is an understatement.  I felt like I was looking at a giant family of a ton of kids who just pushed differences aside to sit down, appreciate, and really take care and interest in one another.  This one meal was probably the first family meal some kids ever had in their life.  During the meal, each student was asked to go around and share what they felt being thankful and grateful meant and why it was important to do every day – not just on one day out of the year.  I wish I had a video of that moment to post here, as it was amazing to hear what every child shared.  A few kids chimed in with examples of very materialistic things that they felt equaled gratitude…and the responses from the other kids were hysterical.  “Did you NOT learn what being grateful really is?!?!”  “You are more thankful for your Gameboy than your family?!?  Does your Gameboy buy you school clothes and food?!?”  The list could go on….  The celebration wrapped up with one of my favorite activities of all time – making butter.  (I’ll never forget the first time I did this as a kid – in preschool.  I remember it like it was yesterday…and how I snuck off into a corner of the classroom and ate all of the butter I made.  It was fantastic; even better…I MADE IT!)  The kids were divided into teams formed in a circle and each team got their own Mason jar full of heavy cream.  On my countdown, the teams had to pass around the jar, taking turns shaking as feverishly as possible to turn the cream into butter.  The winning team was the first who created a “butter ball” from the cream (of course this was an awesome science lesson that taught about particles, motion, solids, liquids, and cohesion).  Each year I did this in my class, I almost peed my pants with how animated these kids got.  I can’t even describe in words what ensued with all of these kids shaking and jumping and freaking out over who could make butter.  Nobody got mean.  Nobody got impatient.  The big kids helped the little kids.  The little kids laughed at the big kids.  Magic.  We enjoyed our homemade butter on homemade cornbread and each kid was able to take home a little goodie bag.  Any leftovers (and there weren’t many, due to the careful recipe planning of the kids) went to the kids who I knew needed some extra food at home.  As each child filed out of my door that day, I felt beyond complete as a person watching all of these kids pull off what they did – on their own.  It restored faith in me that taking things for granted and being super selfish may not be the things that drive most people in society today.  They truly embodied what it was to show gratitude and thanks in their own way, and I was thankful and gracious for that.

So, how does this all tie into the health coaching?  Much of what I learned through my teaching experiences carries into my health coaching practice today.  As we all head into this busy week, many of you will be planning grandiose meals, arranging get-togethers with families and/or friends, and children ready as sponges excited to learn new things.  While I could tell you what nutritious foods to scatter all over your table this year, I find it more fitting to engage in some quality exercises and activities that builds the other component to being healthy – the persona-based and interactive components of our relationships that round out who we are as people.

For starters, get children involved!  Whether it be helping to shop for everything that will be prepared, cooking in the kitchen, decorating the table, or making fun crafts, include the kids.  Be clear on directions and make it fun.  Break tasks down into simple steps, and even use pictures for them to follow if reading is not mastered yet.  It is amazing how much you can teach a child when cooking together in the kitchen.  You can practice counting, colors, measuring, multiplying and dividing, letter recognition, word association, compare/contrast, creative thinking….the list goes on.  Patience is key, so see what things you can prepare in advance so you don’t have to contend with the pressures of time on Thanksgiving day.  Check out this awesome list of ideas here by : http://teachbesideme.com/cross-curricular-kitchen-lessons/

Another lesson kids can learn at any age starting this week is keeping a daily gratitude journal and just getting in the practice of sharing what they are grateful for upon waking up and then going to bed.  This helps disengage any ill feelings that could have arisen through the day; it shifts the focus to positive thinking and learning how to appreciate things in life.  Most importantly – it’s cultivated and learned at an early age, so it’s important for us as adults to model and exemplify this, too.  Besides, it’s a great activity for all of us adults (if you don’t already do it).  Many times when I coach clients, they feel “stuck” or “deprived” or that things “happen to them.”  Through gratitude work, we shift the focus to why certain things are happening for them (remove the victim role here) and how they can take good from what seems like even the worst scenarios.  What’s important to note is that while I am sure this is an area we can all work on (believe me, I am the first to admit it!), kids are observing us react to situations in life a particular way, and this is paving the course to how they will react.  So start practicing all this week and kick things off by sharing whenever you can things that everyone is grateful for.  This can make an awesome and fun art project, too – use some butcher paper or any paper really to create a “gratitude board” that can have words on sticky notes, cut-out pictures, drawn pictures, stickers, etc. to represent everything that everyone in the family is grateful for.  Having it visible is a constant positive reminder and helps to reinforce that mode of thinking.  It’s awesome to see how it grows over time, too.  Get a special notebook for kids to record their gratitude thoughts down daily, too.  They can decorate them and keep them next to their bed or with them at school, etc.  Here are some gratitude journal ideas (and for adults, too):

-          Take 60 seconds upon waking in the morning to write down what you are grateful for.  Take 60 seconds before you go to bed to write down what you are grateful for.  It may sound annoying, but it’s literally 2 minutes out of your day to express what you are thankful for; it leaves you starting and ending each day in a positive way.

-          http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal

-          http://happytapper.com/gratitude-journal

-          http://www.oprah.com/spirit/The-Power-of-Gratitude

I couldn’t leave you without how to do my favorite Thanksgiving activity – making butter in a jar.  Here are some ideas:

-          I use a clean Mason jar with a lid that works (if you are concerned about this breaking, you can get a BPA-free plastic container with a good lid or wrap the Mason jar in a towel and tie string around it tight to protect it).  I buy organic heavy whipping cream, pour it in the jar, close the lid, and shake away.  Some people like to add a pinch of sea salt if you prefer salted butter.  Once the butter “ball” forms, pour off excess water (this is normal) and you have butter!  You can even use cleaned and disinfected glass baby food jars.  I have even decorated the jars with feathers and construction paper cut-outs afterward to look like a turkey to serve as a festive display container.

-          http://www.jumpstart.com/common/make-your-butter

-          http://www.mykidlist.com/2012/08/make-butter-in-a-jar/

-          Vegan?  Here is a vegan butter recipe (that you may not be able to make in a jar, but can be a great lesson anyway!): http://www.cupcakeproject.com/2012/10/homemade-vegan-butter-that-looks-feels.html

I wish each and every one of you the best of Thanksgiving days – no matter how you celebrate.  The focus is on what the day is about…not necessarily how much food and fanciness you have.  Try some new activities to get your children engaged in a fun and different way.  My son is 21-months old and I have had him help out in the kitchen already stirring and mixing since he was 18 months old.  Use this week to kick-off a new trend in positive thinking and acting in your house – you’ll be thrilled with the results!  Oh, and reach out to those in need – whatever way you can, no matter how small or large of a hand you lend; it will make a difference.

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us  or feel free to send her an e-mail at: megan@empowerhealthcoach.com .

 

 


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