Hilton Head Island Middle School students learned more than just math and reading skills from teacher Janis Traynor over the past year. They learned to be thankful for the little things in life.
It started at the end of class one day, when one of Traynor's students asked what she was reading in her spare time. Traynor told her class about Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are."
In the book, Voskamp tells the story of her journey to gratitude. A Christian author, she focuses on Christ's thankfulness in his final days on Earth. She writes about the struggles she faces as a farmer's wife and a homeschooling mother of six. After a friend dared her to come up with a list of 1,000 things for which she was thankful, she learned to find joy in the chaos of life.
"It's all about finding gratitude in everyday things," Traynor said. "Her whole message of being so grateful for the everyday things just came through so clearly in that book to me. ... When I'm grumbling about cleaning my house, now I think about I'm so thankful to have a house to clean."
After Traynor told her class about the book, one of her students suggested that they make their own list. So she set out little pieces of paper and told the kids they could write down their gifts anonymously.
The kids liked the idea so much that they asked to do it again. The project spread from that one class to two of Traynor's other classes. Traynor said the students took turns numbering the gifts to see if they could reach 1,000. Between the three classes -- two sixth-grade classes and one seventh-grade class -- the students went beyond their goal in less than three months. By the end of the school year, one classroom wall and a whiteboard were covered with the students' gifts.
"They'll forget some of the math and English," Traynor said. "This I know they'll remember."
Skarleth Ortega, 13, said she enjoyed the experience and learned to be more grateful. She said she is thankful for her teachers and parents.
"Even though we get mad at our parents because we don't get to go out a lot and everything, our parents are the ones who helped us become what we are today, the same as our teachers," Skarleth said. "Even though we argue for little things, they're the only ones that you are sure will be there for you."
Skarleth said she has started a journal at home and writes down one or two gifts every night.
Travis Mancil, 13, also is working on a gratitude journal. He said it has sparked conversation in his family.
"Even if we go to the beach, we can write about that because some people can't go to the beach," Travis said.
He's hoping others will be inspired by his list and follow suit.
"If my friends know about it, then they will start their list," he said. "And it will hopefully lead on to more people being thankful."
Traynor said she has seen a similar trend in the classroom. The gift list had an impact on her and her students. But it also touched the mother of one of her students. She said the mother visited the classroom one day and was so inspired by the wall of gifts that she went out and bought the book right away.
"It really has such ripple effect," Traynor said. "It's that whole positive energy, think positively, speak positively, and people around start to do that as well."