Fun, Free, Learning Ways to Countdown and Celebrate Valentine's Day!

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Image Credit: Laura Ockel, Unsplash

Age Appropriateness: All
Materials Needed: Countdown Calendar, Show Your Love Activity Deck, Children's Books
In a Nutshell: Whether you love or hate Valentine's Day or something in between we can use it as an opportunity to build relationships with our kids (and sneak in some literacy skills too)!

Keep reading to learn more!

I am always curious how people feel about Valentine’s Day. Love it? Hate it? Love to hate it? Hate it, but secretly love it? Chalk it up to a “Hallmark holiday” yet still play into the pageantry?

As a teacher, we always had fun with Valentine’s Day in school. I know my oldest looks forward to it every year and is disappointed since he is fully remote and 2021 will not be filled with valentines, candies, and a fun classroom party. That, my dear readers, is the inspiration for this article.

I have deliberated about how I can make Valentine’s Day fun and meaningful at home for my kiddos without going overboard with the candy and commercialization of it all. I’m really excited to be able to share some free and fun activities that also build literacy skills throughout this article!

My goal here is to flip the script on Valentine’s Day and reconsider it as an opportunity to take time to focus on relationship building.

Before I risk sounding like a self-help article, I want to remind you that I am writing this as an educator and as a mom, and in the classroom it is imperative for teachers to focus on relationship building and classroom climate.

When I reflect on how I created a strong classroom community with my students, and later how I coached teachers and guided schools with this practice, I think—how am I doing this at home? Why am I not thinking as much about being intentional about developing my relationships with my children, as well as their relationships with each other, as I would in school?

Keep reading to see how I am using this holiday as an excuse to make some extra-special time to show the kiddos just how much I love them, even if the day itself has a strange history…

The History of Valentine’s Day is Blood Red

Valentine’s Day is a “Hallmark holiday.” Sorry to break it to you! But it is not “made up” by corporate America, there is some bizarre history to it that I will most definitely NOT be telling my kids any time soon, well not all of it, but I get to tell you!

Some historians speculate the origin of Valentine’s Day could be based on Lupercalia, a pagan celebration in February where men would strip naked, sacrifice a goat and a dog, and then young boys would whip women with strips of the animals to promote fertility.

Fast forward to the late fifth century to when Pope Gelasius came to power. The Catholic Church attempted to put an end to Lupercalia and set February 14th as a feast celebrating the decapitation of a Christian martyr!

Wait, what?!

Yes, you read that correctly, February 14, has a gory history and nothing to do with love! Fertility, yes, but not love.

But what about Saint Valentine you ask? Yes, he was a real person, but he most definitely was NOT a patron of love. There were no cupids flying around his head.

There is a lot more to it, I suggest checking out these articles if you’re interested. They break the origin down better than I ever could:

Don’t worry, it’s not all grim!

Fellow English Nerds, Rejoice!

Most historians lean toward Geoffrey Chaucer as the reason we have Valentine’s Day as we know it. In The Canterbury Tales “Parlement of Foules” he writes:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day. Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

Translated this reads “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day. When every bird comes there to choose his mate.” As you can see, like Lupercalia and the Catholic feast, Chaucer makes note of February’s importance, marking the start of bird mating season.

Historians tell us that after Chaucer’s “Parlement of Foules” English nobility started to send love-notes in February, a tradition that grew and spread with each passing century.

Jump ahead a few hundred years to when Mr. Romance, a.k.a. Shakespeare, has Ophelia declare herself Hamlet’s valentine (Hamlet 4.5.48-51):

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's day.

All in the morning betime,

And I a maid at your window,

To be your Valentine.

Translated this reads “Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day / And early in the morning / I’m a girl below your window / Waiting to be your Valentine.”

There you have it folks, this is how these things start!

It might have taken a few hundred years, but consider Valentine’s Day something that “went viral” in the age of handwritten letters and manual post!

Eventually it caught on. We just didn’t have the internet to speed it up.

So poke fun at any literature geek you know, me included, for being a helpless romantic, but we were doomed from the time literature started being written for the common person, apparently…

Love for Books Merchandise - Makes a PERFECT Valentine's Day gift for Book Lovers!

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Crank the Printing Presses, Let’s Get this “Holiday” Started Already!

Moving now another couple of centuries to The Industrial Revolution, which really propelled Valentine’s Day into what we know of it, thanks to keen entrepreneurs.

Kids will probably find this interesting. I know I did when I first moved to Central Massachusetts and learned this bit of local history—the first commercial valentine originated in Worcester! Worcester did not invent the valentine, but it was the epicenter of production for the sentimental valentine we associate with the holiday today.

Fun fact, Worcester is dubbed “The Heart of the Commonwealth” for its location, but also because of its ties to the history of Valentine’s Day.

According to the Worcester Historical Museum, in 1847 Esther Howland received an English valentine, which inspired her to design and produce her own. She sold them at her father’s stationary store. It is also believed that Jotham Taft, of next-door Grafton, was already working on manufacturing valentines with his wife. Regardless, in 1879 Edward Taft (Jonathan’s son) and Esther Howland formed the New England Valentine Company!

As with anything, industry is going to capitalize on a moment. And considering pink candy and hearts fill stores the day after Christmas, capitalization overload seems to be what we have now.

Still with me? On to Valentine’s Day 2021!

The kids love Valentine’s Day. I see my oldest truly missing this time of year with his friends and teachers. My twins, for some unknown reason, are obsessed with hearts, and since they are two they think hearts everywhere right now is pretty much the best thing ever. Their excitement is infectious!

We are doing a few things to make Valentine’s Day extra-special this year and I am eager to share them with you!

For starters, we rallied some of our favorite books about love and appreciation and piled them into an advent calendar. A book a day does the mind and the heart good!

There are a TON of Valentine’s Day books for children out there, so this definitely isn’t an “ultimate list.” I recommend checking out your local library to see what they have set out, but here are a few suggestions from our book shelf:

Click image to Pin!

Sharing a book together promotes a love for reading and for that, what’s not to LOVE?

Show Your Love

Another countdown calendar we are using I am going to give to you for FREE! I developed this calendar with all sorts of tasks and challenges that help build connections and approach different ways to express your love for one another.

Click image to download for FREE from Teachers Pay Teachers!

As noted by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell in their book The 5 Love Languages of Children: Secrets to Loving Children Effectively, we all have different ways in which we show and receive love:

  • Physical Touch

  • Words of Affirmation

  • Quality Time

  • Gifts

  • Acts of Service

If you’re not familiar with Champan’s work, it’s pretty interesting food for thought. You can discover your love language by taking a quiz on his website (CLICK HERE).

In classrooms teachers differentiate instruction for students, so let’s think for a moment how do we differentiate love for our children? How do we express and receive love?

Personally, as a busy mom, I know how easy it is to just assume my family feels loved. I do everything for them, after all. But according to Chapman and Campbell, that probably isn’t enough.

When I first read Chapman and Campbell’s book I asked my oldest, “What does Mommy do that makes you feel most loved? Or, another way to ask that, how do you know that you are loved?” Do you know what that 3.5-year-old told me? “I like when we snuggle together and I can play with your hair. I also like it when we play with my figurines.” There we go—quality time and physical touch!

Want to discover your child’s love language? Ask them!

Now that he’s 8 and I am writing this article, I asked again. His response nearly five years later? “I love when we snuggle and read at night and when you sit in my room for a few extra minutes after you turn the lights off. I also really like it when we build forts or do science experiments together.”

It’s really helpful for me to think about how he feels most loved and it is a good reminder that constantly feeding, cooking, cleaning, taking care of his basic needs, that’s not what really makes him feel connected.

I think, more than anything, reading this book has helped me think about how relationships, whether with family, colleagues and friends, or students, they all require intentionality and differentiation.

To take the advent calendar and Chapman and Campbell’s message a little deeper I thought about the different love languages and created the “Show Your Love” card deck, which offers 25 different tasks, 5 blank cards where you can create your own tasks, and a bonus calendar so you can complete one card a day, post it on when finished, and count down the days to Valentine’s Day.

You can download the activity deck on Teacher’s Pay Teachers or on ETSY. As a thank you, all newsletter subscribers will receive the deck for FREE in the February 2021 newsletter. (If you are not signed up, CLICK HERE so you don’t miss future freebies!)

Click images to visit Hungry for Books on Etsy!

On the advent calendar and in the "Show Your Love" activity deck you will find several activities that also sneak in literacy-building skills! Here is a peek:

  • Have a conversation asking questions that do not have a yes or no answer. Make eye contact with your child and be sure to answer the questions yourself too. Take turns posing questions.

  • Write silly poems together and at the same time practice rhyming!

  • Make up a Valentine’s Day story together. You can write it down, turn it into a book, and your child can illustrate! For younger children, grab some toys to use as props and “play through the story.”

  • Have your child choose their favorite book(s) and snuggle together and read.

  • Create a treasure hunt with a map and clues that lead to a surprise.

We are having a TON of fun with the activity deck. I know you will too!

Whatever you do, or however you feel about Valentine’s Day, it is an opportunity to bond with your kiddos and sneak in some literacy building activities!

I hope this makes your child HUNGRY for more books!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Comment and share your creations on social media! I'd love to know how it went and any modifications you might have made. We're all here to learn from each other, not reinvent the wheel!

Click HERE to get your FREE Advent Calendar and Treasure Hunt! (Digital Download)

Click to purchase the "25 Show Your Love Activity Cards" from TPT or ETSY. (Digital Download)

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