By Mary Beth Gibson
When most people think of Valentine’s Day, images of red roses and chocolates automatically come to mind. It’s the holiday of love, and people go to great lengths to declare it. This is almost exclusively romantic love, however—girlfriends coming up with clever gifts for boyfriends, husbands reminding their wives that they’re still cherished. Children have fun getting candy and handing out small cards to their friends and classmates, but Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to not only teach your children about loving others, but also to show others love.
Loving the Earth
It’s especially important that children learn to value nature and take care of it. An excellent way to do this is to do an activity together that has a positive impact on nature. It could be something as simple as taking the recycling out together. Or perhaps you could go to a local park and clean up the trash that others have littered. Head out to a nature reserve or state park to observe and appreciate every small thing you can find. Best of all, you can combine loving the earth with loving people by volunteering to clean up a neighbor’s yard! Rake old leaves, do some winter pruning, clean up the trash and clutter around their yard.
Children usually love animals, and Valentine’s Day is a great time to give them the opportunity to show local animals some love. You could do something as hands off as visiting a local zoo or wildlife preserve where they could donate some piggy bank money to help make sure the animals are cared for. You could volunteer at your local animal shelter together (although check ahead of time, for some facilities have an age restriction), or make a monetary donation together. If your family knows an elderly neighbor who can’t walk her dog anymore you could offer to take him for a walk or get him groomed. You could show the birds and squirrels some love by making feeders to place around your yard; then enjoy watching them together.
Loving the Needy
A service project is an excellent way to teach slightly older children about showing your love through helping others who need it. Volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating (even purchasing) nice items to a local shelter, or spending a day visiting and playing games with seniors in a rehabilitation center are all ways to show love to those who might not otherwise receive it this Valentine’s Day.
A particularly fun way to show love to others is going to a store or restaurant and surprising people you don’t know with gifts. You and your children could go to your local big box store and look around the checkout lines for someone who seems like they could use a break; then you can purchase their order for them and give them a Valentine’s Day card. If that’s a bit outside your budget, why not pay it forward in a coffee line or at a fast food place? Buy the meal or drink of the person behind you just because. If you know you have the means to really bless others, go out to dinner as a family and buy the dinner of a family in your restaurant. Leave the check open and offer them dessert if they’d like. If all of these are outside your budget, why not write some sweet and encouraging love notes for strangers? Write long letters or short, little cards and hand them out to people you see throughout the day. Give them reminders that they are loved and they are worthy of love.
Show your love for your family in as many ways as you can throughout the day. Making heart shaped pancakes is fun for breakfast, but what about each person getting to eat one of the things they absolutely love during the day? If Dad loves barbeque ribs, then have them for dinner. If little brother loves mushrooms put them in the soup or on his salad, and if Mom loves Lucky Charms eat them for breakfast. Whatever everyone loves, everyone else eats enthusiastically and without complaining. If you know your picky eaters won’t be able to do that one sweetly, why not make items for the family instead of buying chocolates and candy? Bust out the construction paper, glitter, and glue, and help your kiddos make everyone a sweet card. Or have your older children write letters to the members of your family listing the ways they are loved.
Loving others is an invaluable thing to pass on to your children, so let Valentine’s Day be the way to act on that value. By all means, enjoy some candy and some flowers, but then take some time to spread love to others without expecting anything in return.
Mary Beth Gibson graduated from Wichita State University in 2007 with a BA in Creative Writing and blogs at Bright Sycamore. She enjoys most things natural, but with a healthy dose of practicality and affordability. You can most likely find her wearing her toddler around Target as she hunts for great deals in the dollar bins. She lives in Kansas with her husband and 1-year old son.
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