By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp
This year I’m “doing” Valentine’s Day with our four kids. Usually, my husband and I go out for a meal or a movie (or both) and that’s about it for us for Valentine’s Day. It’s not a massively big thing here in New Zealand and not usually a “kids’ thing”. I remember growing up I always thought of Valentine’s Day as an “American thing” and thought it must be quite embarrassing trying to secretly give cards or presents to people… particularly going into the teenage years if it was someone you actually did like (for some reason the idea of them potentially knowing I had a crush on them was the biggest possible humiliation… so much easier to just do nothing at all…). My five years working and living in Japan showed me another interesting idea… Valentine’s Day (where males give females a card or present) followed by “White Day” on March 14th, where females give males “something white” (which could include white chocolate) in return. White day is, apparently, also popular in South Korea, Taiwan, and China.
Getting back to Valentine’s Day, February 14th, however, I decided it could be fun to involve our children this year. As with any celebration, I believe, particularly if you are planning it for your kids and family, that it’s important to “make it your own”. In the case of Valentine’s Day, I thought about how I could make activities which would interest the kids. Here are some of the things we did. Feel free to use these ideas for your Valentine’s Day or other celebrations– make traditions your own and create memories for your children’s “forever years”!
1. A Valentine’s Day Poster
This is a very simple exercise: cutting out red hearts and sticking them on blue paper. I used a scrap booking heart-shaped cutter, but I’ve also found folding a piece of red paper in half and cutting a half heart shape, then opening it out so that the two sides of the paper heart are perfectly even, to be effective. We then wrote the words for “Love” or “I love you” in lots of languages– good for getting the kids to think of love in the context of language and culture, and also for promoting the idea of love in our “global family”. Some of these languages we knew, others we looked up on Google. We also created a heart with the famous Bible verse about “faith, hope and love”, as this seemed appropriate for Valentine’s Day. As well as this, we talked about different kinds of love. I have three boys and a girl and at first my boys were a little reluctant to do the Valentine’s Day activities, saying that hearts were “girly” and they thought it all sounded “soppy” and maybe it was about “adults kissing and yucky things like that.” As we got talking, however, we came to realise that there are so many things we can love: people (friends, family, extended family like grandparents and so on); animals (pets, a particular kind of animal like dogs or dinosaurs…), things (trains, cars, toys…), hobbies (swimming, going to the movies…), feelings (walking on the beach on a sunny day, blowing out birthday candles, seeing grandparents after a long time, eating chocolate…). Our list grew quite long and the kids wrote their ideas down on the hearts, underneath the “love” words in each language. They also drew pictures in some cases. Simple, but a great learning and thought provoking exercise.
2. Baking Valentine’s Biscuits
Aside from the obvious benefits of baking for kids– measuring, reading and following a recipe, examining shapes (spatial awareness– how many hearts can we fit together until they join up in a circle? What’s the best way to arrange them so we fit as many as possible on the tray?), baking is a whole lot of fun and they love it. I’m not always the most patient of Mums and I do find it a bit frustrating when the kids fight over who is going to stir, roll, cut or put in ingredients– I have to take a deep breath and just keep things fair with them all taking turns. Children also love to grab chunks of the dough mixture and eat it– part of the fun of being a kid and doing baking I guess, but I found myself sighing at times and I think we lost a couple of biscuits worth of mixture. Overall it’s an awesome, activity though. We coloured some of our “heart bickies”– some red, some blue (sad hearts we called those ones) and some we left plain. (The food colouring can be natural… we used beetroot juice for the red and blueberry juice for the blue). The kids took some of their creations to school to share with friends and eat themselves and gave some to their Nana.
3. Place mats for our “Valentine’s Day Family Meal”
Place mats for our Valentine’s Day meal were the next creation. What I thought was cool about doing these was that all the kids wanted to make ones for everyone else. They really thought about people’s favourite things as well as what they love in particular about the member of the family they were making their place mat for. We were lucky that we had a heart shaped stencil with some Valentine’s Day designs in it, but, again there are lots of other ways these could be made: folded hearts, stickers, stamps or just free, imaginative drawing: go for it! We laminated the creations so they can be wiped clean after food spills. For fun, we may use them a few times after Valentines Day, then store them for next year.
4. Red Clothes and Decorations
I decided the “look” for our Valentine’s Day family meal would be completed if we decorated everything in red.. I found some red balloons and crepe paper… it is my son’s birthday next week, so I had those in red and blue anyway. The thing which completed the “look” was remembering that we had a red sheet– perfect for making into a Valentine’s Day tablecloth! As well as this, I thought it would add to the effect if the whole family wore red clothes. We rifled through our drawers and everyone was able to come up with at least one item– no, I tell a lie, the dress my daughter dug out was pink, but it had hearts all over it, so we couldn’t dispute its suitability for the occasion.
5. Red Food!
I’ve heard of some people REALLY going to town on this and having red mashed potatoes, red plates and everything. My “family Valentine’s meal” was thrown together rather hastily in the end and we had fish and chips, followed by raspberry jelly and icecream. Simple (and inexpensive), but fun and effective– the kids knew it was something special and it has created a new “forever years” memory. We’ll probably continue the tradition in the future.
6. The History behind Valentine’s Day
Another thing I forgot to mention, which we did, was talk about St. Valentine as a historical figure (again, we visited Mr. Google for information). The kids (the boys too) were interested to learn his story. St. Valentine was a priest in Rome during the rule of the Emperor Claudius II. The Emperor wanted more men to join his army and those who married and had families tended not to do this. Consequently, he made a decree forbidding marriage. St. Valentine went against this decree and performed secret weddings until he was caught and sentenced to death– supposedly on February 14th. These events were said to have taken place around the year 270AD. As is often the case, the death of St. Valentine only increased support for his cause and people began secretly sending cards to those they loved as well as continuing to arrange secret marriages. There are some good youtube clips out there for children telling about the history of St. Valentine’s Day: I’ll include one I particularly like below. Our kids were also interested in the ancient stories of cupid and how the arrows from his bow were supposed to effect who humans fell in love with.
We at “The Forever Years” wish everyone reading this a happy and fun St. Valentine’s Day. Enjoy creating “forever years memories”.
A Youtube Valentine’s Day History Clip for kids…