For many adults, Valentine’s Day is a special day to celebrate the love and affection one might have for their significant other. For kids however, it’s something much more meaningful and important.
I love Valentine’s Day. Some of the best memories I have of Valentine’s Day are of the class parties thrown at school and times shared with family and friends.
The very first memory I have of Valentine’s Day is sitting at our modest kitchen table with my mom in our little home on the outskirts of Purcell, Oklahoma, a town known for being the quarter horse capital of the world, and decorating an empty oatmeal container “mailbox” in preparation for my very first class Valentine’s Day party. You see, I was a first grade student in my first year enrolled in a public school where Valentine’s Day was celebrated. I didn’t know what I was in for, but I could tell it was going to be a special day!
I remember being so excited for the upcoming party – as all first graders probably are!
My mom had lots of fun and colorful craft supplies laying out in front of us at the table. We glued black colored construction paper to the exterior of the cylindrical container and then decorated it with stickers, colored yarn, laced paper doilies, and hearts carefully cut out of red, pink, and white construction paper. My mom cut a hole in the plastic lid just big enough to allow Valentine’s Day cards delivered by classmates to fall through the hole.
I couldn’t wait to see what I’d receive in my inbox the following day!
Well, Valentine’s Day came and went. Then over the summer, our family divided. My mom, sister, and I moved out of state to the small town of Lake Jackson, Texas. Just 50 miles south of Houston and a 20 minute drive from a beach on the gulf of Mexico, I began school again in a new town.
Three Valentine’s Days would pass before our family would move again and I would be forced to make new friends again. Over the years, I decorated many Valentine’s Day mailboxes and exchanged cards and candy with friends and classmates I met along the way.
I eventually grew up, had children of my own, and made new memories of Valentine’s Days with my children.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to volunteer in my children’s schools and assist with their class parties for a time. Those opportunities to provide treats and fun activities and ultimately bring smiles and happiness to those kids were worth more than gold. It was a special experience for the kids, teachers, and adult volunteers. It’s time that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world and are memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Over the years, the Valentine’s Day mailboxes made by our family and friends varied in size, shape, colors and even theme, but always managed to be nothing short of spectacular.
You see, those Valentine’s Day mailboxes weren’t simply vessels to hold cards and candy exchanged with classmates; they were miraculous symbols of hope and joy. For just one day, like a miracle, no matter who you were, where you came from, or what your socioeconomic status was, you had a sense of belonging and felt loved and accepted by all!
What could be more miraculous than that?
Disconnect on the Incline
Disconnect in Students
For as long as I can remember, schools have had a long-standing tradition of hosting classroom parties to celebrate the various American holidays throughout the academic year. This celebratory socialization was part and parcel for what was always a very coveted American way of life.
Sadly, the world seems to have changed in recent years. Over time, people began questioning whether class holiday parties should be a thing of the past. Schools have become less inclined to allow holiday parties citing reasons such as a lack of educational value, a decline in the nutritional value of prepackaged food, and being in conflict with the religious beliefs of some of the diverse population enrolled.
But at what cost?
The lack of opportunities to socially engage with others and create positive social connections can eliminate a sense of belonging and create a disassociation that can negatively affect both mental and physical health.
Other studies show that not just any social interaction will do. The type of social interaction matters where virtual interactions, as opposed to face-to-face interactions, contributed towards a sense of loneliness and social isolation in students.
Despite the fact that social media originated as a way for students, friends, and family to virtually connect with each other, it’s not been without controversy.
In recent 2023 news, on the heels of a study revealing brain changes in young teens who habitually check social media and a publication educating the public of the serious mental health crisis currently affecting youth, a lawsuit was filed by Seattle Public Schools against several social media giants claiming they were “accountable for the harm they have wreaked on the social, emotional, and mental health of its students.”
Disconnect in the Aging Population
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, social isolation and loneliness in older adults can have a serious impact on mental and physical health resulting in an increased risk of premature death from all causes including dementia, heart disease, cancers, and more.
The good news is that just like in children and adolescents, with intervention, some effects of loneliness and social isolation can be reversed in adults.
The Australian Journal of Psychology published a special issue exploring research on the topics of belonging and loneliness. What is abundantly clear is that people are social by nature and that being able to connect with others and feel as though we belong is what fundamentally makes us human. By being cognizant of the growing problem of loneliness and social isolation, we can better prepare ourselves to combat this in our family, friends, schools, and community.
Schools can help cultivate a sense of belonging by encouraging kindness and creating more opportunities for positive social engagement amongst students to help them connect with others.
Share the Hope, Joy, and Love
Imagine the difference your act of kindness could make if you were able to reach the heart and mind of at least one sad or lonely person in your world. How miraculous would that be?
Ways You Can Make a Difference This Valentine’s Day:
1. Host a Valentine’s Day Party at Your Neighborhood Park.
Invite the kids that don’t get invited often, the retired neighbors who rarely get visitors, and the families new to the neighborhood. Offer food and beverages or make it a potluck. Encourage everyone to make and exchange Valentine’s Day cards. Set up tables for activities such as arts and crafts and board games and don’t forget to play fun yard games too. (Our new favorite: Flickin’ Chicken!)
The vitamin D provided by healthy sunshine will also do everyone a bit of good!
2. Deliver Valentine’s Day cards to friends and neighbors.
3. Visit a Nursing or Retirement Home for Valentine’s Day.
Create an opportunity for older adults to socially engage with others while singing songs, playing games, and doing arts and crafts projects which can be therapeutic for the brain.
4. Make and share a favorite recipe with others.
Nothing says “lovin'” like a chicken dinner from your oven!
This year, the holiday falls on Tuesday, February 14th. Why not make it a “Taco Tuesday” and share your favorite 15 Minute Chicken Street Tacos?
5. Make or purchase treats to share with others.
This would be a great opportunity for the kids to get experience in the kitchen while making something they can be proud to share with others. These recipes don’t have to be too complicated. They could be as simple as a Marshmallow Puffed Rice Treat tinted with food coloring and that they’ve molded into holiday shapes like a heart for Valentine’s Day.
Free Valentine’s Day Printables
To help you get started, here are some free Valentine’s Day printables that you can use to make it a special day.