Fall brings cooler temperatures, gorgeous leaves and a season of gratitude as many celebrate Thanksgiving. Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, it's important to recognize the good things in your life and help your family do the same. Here are five simple but effective activities to help your family express gratitude this season.

1. Thankful chains

For this activity, you will need paper, scissors (or a paper cutter), markers and a stapler. Cut several strips of paper about 1 inch wide by 6 inches long. Have family members write things they are thankful for on each strip. Then, join the strips together to make a paper chain. You can make a chain all at once, or add to it throughout the month.

Leaving the paper, markers and stapler in a common area will allow family members to add to the chain daily - or every time they think of something new they are thankful for. Soon, your thankful chain will become a focal point in your home.

2. Gratitude journals

Inexpensive notebooks or small papers stapled together can become simple gratitude journals for your family to write in throughout the month of November. Have each family member personalize his or her journal with drawings, stickers or fall decorations to make the journals fun to use.

Encourage daily or weekly writing in the journals, and have family members periodically share what they have written. Many people who start gratitude journals in November continue to write in them long after Thanksgiving ends.

3. Thanksgiving tree

For several years, my family used a Thanksgiving tree as a way to capture and acknowledge our feelings of gratitude. I started by drawing a bare tree on a large poster board. Then we cut out leaves from colorful paper (using paper punches or a die-cut). As family members thought of blessings and things they were thankful for, they would write on the leaves and post them on the tree. By the end of the month, we had a beautiful tree full of thankful leaves. My children enjoyed painting white paper with fall colors to use as the base for our leaves. You may be able to find pre-cut leaf shapes at a craft store.

A variation on this activity involves real tree branches. Place the branches in a tall vase and then hang your thankful leaves from them for a 3D thankful tree.

4. Blessings poster

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most effective. Put up a blank poster board in a common area of your home. Write "I am thankful for" at the top of the poster and then see what happens. The spontaneous, organic nature of this idea makes it fun. As family members walk by, they might write down anything from "homemade cookies" to "fuzzy socks." After your poster fills up, take time to notice what others wrote. A large chalkboard would also work for this idea.

5. "I am thankful" game

For small children who are unable to write on their own, this game is a good choice. Find a soft ball or toy that is easy to throw and catch. Sit in a circle and start by saying "I am thankful for," then name something. Next, throw the ball to someone else in the circle and have him or her name something. Make sure everyone gets a turn. If children have a difficult time coming up with things, choose a category like food, people or places. Play the game as often as you wish.

I am always happy when November rolls around. No matter what struggles I have in my life, taking time to express gratitude and help my children do the same makes life more meaningful. Find time to do one of these activities, or something similar, and see how the spirit of Thanksgiving makes your home brighter.

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