Parents teach their children lots of practical things, like how to tie their shoes and how to drive a car, but how many kids learn how to say grace?

No matter how it’s done, saying grace is a powerful thing that introduces children to the concept of gratitude and other intangibles in life, says Kate Braestrup, chaplain for the Maine Warden Service and author of “Beginner’s Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life.”

The predictability of saying daily grace can also be protective. Children love rituals, and without some guidance they will discover their own – and the rituals they choose won’t necessarily be good ones. If parents don’t fill in these cultural spaces, Braestrup warns, “consumerism is very happy to do that for you.”

“Sometimes parents are anxious about having their children say grace because they’re afraid that they’re limiting their religious freedom,” Braestrup said. “In my experience, it’s extremely difficult to limit a child’s religious and intellectual freedom. You can do it, but you have to work pretty hard at it because people are natural heretics and iconoclasts.”

At the Friends School of Portland in Falmouth, preschoolers say the same grace twice a day – once before their communal snack, and once before lunch, according to their teacher, Jonathan Rhoads: “Give thanks to mother earth, give thanks to father sun, give thanks to the plants in the garden where the mother and father are one.”

“The kids love it,” Rhoads said, adding that the children recently started reciting it in sign language as well. “The parents love that we do it.”

Rhoads said it’s part of the Quaker tradition to have periods of reflection built into the day.

“It’s amazing how fast the really young kids who have never been exposed to it learn it and participate in it,” he said.

Saying grace also has a lot of practical benefits if you have children, Braestrup said. It keeps dinnertime a little more orderly, and it instills a sense of good manners and an awareness of others who contribute to our well-being, such as the person who prepared the meal.

Sawyer said he thinks it’s important for parents to show their child how they have found meaning in life, including modeling behavior like saying a daily grace.

“Maybe you won’t find meaning in your life in the same way,” he said. “Maybe you’ll choose another faith, or maybe you’ll choose not to embrace a faith, but the expression of gratitude is the archetype. However the archetype manifests itself in your life, it’s up to you. But you, like me, are lucky to live in a place where you’re safe every day and you eat every day and you have good health, and you don’t take that for granted.”

— Meredith Goad