Celebrating Valentine’s Day
Updated Feb. 2019
Holidays can sometimes be a mixed blessing in schools. Some students love to exchange cards on Valentine’s Day but every year there are problems. Sometimes the exchange seems too competitive and often there are students who feel left out. Other times, it seems like all we’re doing is supporting the greeting card industry and parents complain about the cost of getting cards or treats for the entire class.
As we think about how to celebrate Valentine’s Day we asked some of our Responsive Classroom Consulting Teachers the following question:
What strategies do you use around Valentine’s Day that put the emphasis on inclusivity and caring rather than on favoritism and economics?
A: At my school, we’ve decided not to celebrate Valentine’s Day. If students want to send cards, they send them to each other’s homes. However, I do like to talk with my students about the history of the holiday. There’s no definitive story about the origins of Valentine’s Day but most of the legends talk about a man named Valentine who lived in the third century, during the time of the Roman empire. In one story, the emperor Claudius, afraid that men with families wouldn’t make good soldiers, decreed that men couldn’t marry. Valentine thought this was unjust and performed secret marriages. He was caught, imprisoned, and condemned to death. While he was in jail, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and sent her letters, which he signed, “Your Valentine.” Another story says that a man named Valentine helped Christians escape the harsh conditions of Roman prisons and, again, wrote a letter to the jailer’s daughter. In each story, Valentine saw an injustice and acted against it.
One way to celebrate the holiday would be to begin with a discussion of the history of Valentine’s Day, focused on the idea of resisting injustice. You could even encourage students to do research on the various stories about Valentine’s Day. Then brainstorm with students some things that they could do that would take action on a local problem. For example, students could send money to support a local organization such as a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. To raise the money, they could each contribute the cost of buying or making valentines for the class or they could hold a Valentine’s Day bake sale.
– Sarah Magee, K–3 teacher in Old Lyme, Connecticut
A: The shift from elementary school to middle school is a huge leap for sixth graders as they leave behind the world of holiday celebrations in self-contained classrooms to join the world of lockers and school-wide activities. Valentine’s Day is always a big event in the elementary school but isn’t celebrated in the same way in middle school. However, some sixth-graders eagerly bring and distribute valentines, prompting laughter and teasing from older students.
To solve this problem, we decided to make all of February “Show Appreciation” month instead of celebrating the specific Valentine’s Day holiday. Through our advisory program we discuss the importance of telling people how much they mean to us all year long and brainstorm ways to show our appreciation. For example, one year my class decided to make a display for the front hall. Each student took a picture of him/herself standing with a student, teacher, or staff member s/he really appreciated. I encouraged students not to pick their best friends and to each choose a different person. Then we decorated the wall with the pictures, surrounded by hearts and flowers. Below the pictures, we explained what we appreciated about each person. A project like this one puts the emphasis on others and everyone is a winner!
– Barbara Forshag, middle school teacher in Hahnville, Louisiana
A: I begin getting my class ready for Valentine’s Day by discussing the meaning of friendship. I ask students, “What does it mean to be a friend? How can we show appreciation to others?” Their suggestions include things like sharing a snack, spending time with someone, helping someone, or sending them a card.
To make the holiday more inclusive and friendly, right before Valentine’s Day each child decorates a bag for receiving valentines. I let parents know that giving cards is voluntary and offer options such as sending in a treat for the class. Not all children bring in cards or treats but I have never noticed any children being upset by that. I also suggest that parents have their children sign cards but not address them to particular people. That way, students can just put one card in each bag without being concerned about who gets which card.
Here are some other suggestions to avoid the problems you mention:
- Each child pulls a name from a jar and then makes a card for that person
- Each child chooses a name and then does a good deed for that person
- Children make a treat together for the entire class
- Children make cards to trade with another class
Above all, children should get the message of the importance of friendship on this special day.
– Maureen Russell, first grade special education inclusion teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts
A: The Responsive Classroom approach has taught me to be proactive about everything, including Valentine’s Day. In my fifth grade class, issues of fairness and empathy are part of our day-to-day learning, all year long; Valentine’s Day offers a great opportunity for acting on this learning.
Ten and eleven-year-old children are sensitive to issues of fairness in games, sports, and lunch lines. Throughout the year, I ask questions that encourage empathy. For example, early in the year I notice who gets greeted first and who gets greeted last at Morning Meeting. I ask, “How do you think it feels to be the last person greeted?” Sometimes I say that I would feel sad if I were always greeted last. The students agree that they, too, would feel sad if this happened to them. It is now up to the class to take good care of each other by making sure that no one is left out or chosen last for group activities. This concern for each other’s feelings carries over into all aspects of classroom life.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, I talk about my own experience as a fifth grader. I tell the class that I can still recall the excitement of buying valentines and then sorting them into groups: one for my best friend, one for my next best friend, one for my not-so-very-good friends, and so on down the list. I ask them how it would feel to be at the bottom of a list like that and not get any valentines or get only poorly made cards. We talk about ways we can celebrate the holiday that help rather than hurt people.
This year, I’m going to connect our Valentine’s Day celebration to an ongoing service learning project that my students and I just started at a local retirement home. The students are pen pals with residents at the home. As Valentine’s Day approaches, I’ll ask the students to think about how their pen pals might be feeling. Then we’ll talk about how they would like to help the residents celebrate Valentine’s Day.
– Eric Henry, fifth grade teacher in Skokie, Illinois
What are some ways that you celebrate Valentines Day with your students?
Tags: Celebrations and Holidays