While all kids love receiving Valentine's cards and candy, V-Day is a good time to remind children about the importance of giving—performing acts of kindness and making others feel loved and appreciated. Try one (or all) of these family-friendly ideas to share a little L-O-V-E.
Handmade Valentine cards and artwork are some fun (and creative) ways for your family to help put a smile on someone's face. Have your child make cards, draw or color pictures, write letters, and then deliver them to a local hospital or nursing home. The staff may even let you deliver the cards to each room. Your family could also use its artistic talent to do some Valentine's-themed decorations on lunch bags for Meals on Wheels recipients or breakfast bags for families staying at a local Ronald McDonald House, says Jenny Friedman, Ph.D., executive director of Doing Good Together™.
Another way kids can spread Valentine's cheer is doing volunteer work. Sometimes it can be difficult to find volunteer opportunities for children because many organizations have age limits, but don't let that deter you. "Call the organization, ask for the volunteer coordinator, let them know your children's ages and ask if there are ways to help on site," Friedman says. At a food bank, kids may be able to sort and package foods; they can set the table at a soup kitchen; and at a homeless shelter, they may be able to decorate rooms or common areas, or even read books with the children that are staying there.
Before starting volunteer work, have a discussion with your child. "It's wise to prepare kids ahead of time—what the job will involve and what they might see or experience," says Susan Crites Price, author of Generous Genes: Raising Caring Kids in a Digital Age. Then, once your family is done for the day, ask your child what he liked, what he didn't like, and whether he would like to do it again or try something different, she adds.
"Children's hospitals are often eager for 'activity kits' for the kids, says Friedman. "This means including all the 'ingredients' for a fun craft project (that the hospitalized child can complete) in a Ziploc bag," she explains. Some possible items to include are stickers or sticker pages, bead and string to make a bracelet, coloring pages and crayons, kids' scissors and construction paper, pens, markers, or origami paper and instructions. Other goodies the kids will appreciate include magazines, books, word-search puzzles, teddy bears, quilts, games, and age-appropriate toys. Put a V-Day card in each kit, but don't include any candy or treats. Before you and your kiddos make any purchases or start the assembly work, check with the hospital for information on what it needs (and if any items aren't allowed).
If your kid is an animal lover, she'll probably be thrilled to show love to furry friends. "Check the wish list of your local shelter or wildlife rescue organization, then hold a collection drive among your friends and neighbors," Price says. "Typical items they need include gently used (and cleaned) water and food bowls, toys, leashes and collars, grooming tools, pet beds, and towels," she says. Or if you prefer, you could buy a few items to donate, or you and your child can make dog biscuits or no-sew blankets or toys. If your child wants to get up close and personal with animals, a couple of ways to do that might be offering to walk an elderly neighbor's dog or helping care for the pet of a neighbor who is sick. And though some rescue organizations have age restrictions in place, some will allow children to play with the animals, so call to check.
Check with a senior living facility or nursing home to find out if any of the residents might be lonely. If so, you and your child could stop by and visit. Your family could also bake cookies or decorate Valentines and deliver them to the facility (make sure it's okay first), Price says. Another way to brighten someone's day is checking on an elderly neighbor or relative to see if he or she needs someone to do simple repairs, cleaning, or errands.
Buy single flowers (or grab a few items to make cupcake-liner flowers) and pass them out to people you and your child would like to express appreciation towards. The list of possible recipients is nearly endless: your child's teacher, the next-door neighbor, firefighters at the nearby station, a police officer, the librarian.... And don't forget the people in your life who don't normally get much gratitude, Friedman says. The mail carrier, garbage collector, school bus driver, crossing guard, and whomever else you choose is sure to appreciate the gesture.
You know how you sometimes hear about someone paying for the next car in the drive-through line? If your family visits a drive-through or restaurant on Valentine's, pay for the person behind you. Or if the restaurant offers sweet treats, buy a couple for the car behind you. Your child can pay it forward to other kids by taping a quarter or two to a gumball machine, leaving one of his books in a place where he knows another kid will find it (like at the playground), or letting another child go first when they're in line. One of the cool things about these pay-it-forward activities is they tend to be contagious. "Recipients of kindness are often moved to pass along that good feeling," Friedman says. Who knows, you might hear about a long pay-it-forward chain at a restaurant, and you and your kids can take pride in knowing you started or participated in it!