Valentine’s Day can be an excellent teaching tool for young students. Today, rather than focusing on the “Hallmark holiday” aspect of Valentine’s Day, many elementary teachers and parents instead seize the opportunity to discuss the concepts of inclusivity, kindness, and generosity in the classroom and at home.
In Miriam Cohen’s Bee My Valentine, all the first graders in Jim’s classroom are excited to exchange valentines. “Everyone must send a card to everyone else in the first grade,” says the teacher. “Then nobody will be sad.” When Valentine’s Day arrives, everyone is happy—except for George, who somehow receives fewer valentines than everyone else. Through the encouragement and guidance of their teacher, Jim and his classmates find different ways to show George how much they care about him.
If valentines are distributed to classmates, as in Bee My Valentine, some teachers remind children they must bring enough for everyone. Doing otherwise easily results in hurt feelings (like George’s). Perhaps not all students want to bring valentines for everyone in the class. But some elementary teachers, like Eric Henry from Skokie, Illinois, counter this stance with discussions on fairness and inclusivity. Eric explains different scenarios to his students and asks how they would feel if they didn’t receive any valentines, or were given poorly made ones. Students are encouraged to see things from another point of view and empathize with one other.
Other elementary teachers integrate different activities, rather than ask students to exchange valentines. Jessica Boschen, for example, incorporates an activity focusing on self-love into her Valentine’s Day syllabus. Jessica notes that many children in her class “don’t hear words of affirmation on a daily basis nor do they come to school with a positive self-worth.” In her classroom activity, students are asked to reflect on three things: what they can do, who they are, and their different character traits. The students must then pick their favorite attribute and write it on a heart to be posted on the wall for everyone to see!
Parents can also use Valentine’s Day to celebrate kindness and generosity at home with their young children. Before Valentine’s Day arrives, parents and children can hold a valentine-making session together: construction paper, markers, glitter, and stickers are all part of the fun! Kids will have fun creating valentines with personal messages for friends and family members, and parents can use this time to talk about being considerate and compassionate to others. On Valentine’s Day, some parents begin the morning with a special breakfast before school, such as heart-shaped waffles and strawberries, and leave little notes of appreciation for their children to find throughout the day, either at home or in backpacks and lunchboxes. Other parents volunteer at retirement centers or pet shelters with their kids. During dinner, parents can initiate a conversation in which kids go around the table and name what they love and appreciate most about each person there.
While generosity, kindness, and inclusivity are all concepts that children can learn throughout the year, focusing on these ideas in celebration of Valentine’s Day will only make the holiday more meaningful. This February 14th, use the day as a teaching opportunity (and a time to eat chocolate)!