Valentine Fun for All Ages

Mid-February has celebrated both fertility and romance for 2000 years, but Valentine’s Day has only been considered a holiday for children in the recent past.  Now many kids learn the traditions of the holiday as early as preschool broadening the scope of the holiday to make ageless fun for everyone.

A decorated shoebox stuffed with humorous cards and a few small candies has been a typical American elementary school experience for the last 50 years.  During that time, busy lives, multiple children and exposure to media have forced an evolution from simple, homemade salutations into store-bought squares printed with Sponge Bob and Strawberry Shortcake.  But there is still room for old-fashioned paper hearts, stickers, lace and glue.

Steve Langhorst, principal of Bierbaum Accelerated School in St. Louis, Mo., says that parents should use discretion in recognizing Valentine’s Day with their children.  Instead of focusing on adult romantic love, they might take this opportunity to reinforce the qualities of friendship and caring in their children.  At school, he likes it best when he sees kids passing out personally created cards with an exchange of kind greetings.

Says Langhorst, “The messages we do encourage revolve around friendship, not love, but still being kind and nice to all.”

So, what about creating a custom card?  They don’t look as fancy, and they aren’t always perfect, but they can be simple to make.  A paper heart makes a happy face with an upside down heart sticker as a perky nose and one right side up for a sweet smile.  Glue on two googly eyes, and it’s a valentine to share. has lots of simple ideas that are easy to make and encourage quality family time that can be squeezed into a busy schedule.  Start in January on the project so that the creation, dedications and signatures happen a few at a time and remain a fun after-dinner activity instead of a rushed obligation.

In addition to exchanging valentine cards, many schools have classroom parties or special snacks to share.  Kady Carroll, a Canadian mother of three who is experienced with treat creativity, suggests dipping marshmallows on craft sticks in melted chocolate and then pink sprinkles.

“Arrange the sticks in a vase of crumpled tissue paper, and offer a bouquet of sweets to the class!” says Carroll.

At home, too, Valentine’s Day can be a special celebration of family love and appreciation.  Start the day off with a red and pink valentine breakfast.  Red food coloring added to milk, oatmeal or scrambled eggs will make your little valentines smile.  Decorate a bowl of pink yogurt with sliced strawberries that look like little red hearts.  For a mid-day surprise, slip secret notes into lunch bags with heart-shaped sandwiches.  At dinner, create a valentine pizza together.  Shape the dough into a heart, and let the kids pile on their favorite toppings.

For a sweeter activity, roll out the dough!  Store bought cookie dough bakes up as well as scratch, and decorating cookies with the kids can brighten up a frosty February weekend.  Pink, white and red frostings can be slathered on heart-shaped cookies and decorated with red hot candies, conversation hearts, fancy frosting shapes, words and candy sprinkles.  Decorate a box for the confections with paper, markers and stickers, and a heart-felt gift is ready to share.

Craft stores, supermarkets and greeting card companies tempt romantics in February with projects, treats and communiqués for all ages.  It is the one time of year when we freely express love and affection, and even children are in search of the perfect way to convey their sweet message.  When asked what kind of valentine the average kid would prefer to receive, 9-year-old Elijah McCarty responds with a blush and a shrug, “I guess it would depend on who it’s from.” That message remains ageless the world over:  It’s about who you fancy.  The rest is just delicious, pretty and fun.

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Create valentine fun all day long and bring the magic of friendship and love into your life:

*Make a treasure hunt with clues written on paper hearts for your valentine to sleuth out.

*Take a tulip, valentine or baked goods to someone who is alone on this day and remind yourself and your kids of the loving spirit this holiday celebrates.

*Bake a heart shaped cake and pile on the frosting.

*Send photo valentines to loved ones who are far away…this might be a great time to make up for belated holiday greetings that just didn’t get done in December!

*Have a candlelight dinner for the entire family and tell stories about how friends and loved ones came to be cherished in your life.

*Write down ways to help others on paper hearts and put them in a jar.  For the weeks following Valentine’s Day, pull out a heart and implement the suggestion:  Clean a playground, visit a nursing home or cook for a local shelter.  Spread the love of the season.

*Celebrate Valentine’s Day all week by dedicating each day to a different family member.  On Johnnie’s day, carry him piggyback downstairs to breakfast and let him choose a special after-school activity.  Suzie might get to choose what the family will have for dinner and plan an outing. Let the kids decide what special things to do for Mom and Dad on their honored days.

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Halloween By Hand

In the quest for the most imaginative Halloween costume, the convenience of a ready-made costume can be a temptation. But the pride that comes with creating your own costume is heady, and the price can’t be beat.

Charlene Sarmiento of Goodwill Industries International Inc. says Goodwill’s highest retail sales of the year occur in October.

“Buying and even renting Halloween costumes can be expensive,” she said. “Goodwill stores offer gently worn costumes and clothing at affordable prices.  All you need is a little imagination to build a unique costume.”

Another consideration is your own level of creative comfort.  Are you better with sewing, glue guns or duct tape?  Then scour your closet and drawers for the gems that will take your costume to new heights.

“Start with something from another year and accessorize it in a different way to create an entirely new costume without the expense of a whole new one,” suggests Aimee Weber of Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores.

A cape can be the foundation of a wizard, witch or queen costume, and the right cocktail dress can adorn a movie star, Cleopatra or the bride of Frankenstein.  Creative craft additions can also add zip to otherwise mundane closet items.  A pair of old bell-bottom pants is transformed into Elvis duds with sparkly jewels.  A can of gold spray paint, a tasseled drapery tieback and a wreath of silk ivy can transform a tired white sheet and flip-flops into a Greek god or goddess.  Jack-o‘-lanterns carved from the bottom make perfect scarecrow heads when they top off simple overalls.

Attach green or purple balloons to similarly colored clothes and become a bunch of grapes.  Use fewer “grapes” at the bottom of the outfit to make the “bunch” appear naturally tapered.  If you feel more inspired, dangle white balloons and a small shower curtain from a hula hoop.  Attach the entire contraption to a stick tied around the waist of a shower-capped and bubble-filled bather.  Multicolored balloons affixed with safety pins to a wearer carefully wrapped in clear plastic become a bag of jelly beans.

Couples dressing up together are able to pull off witty costume tricks.  A flowered dress from Goodwill and military fatigues from a surplus store celebrate Halloween as “War and Peace.”  Or divide fatigues between two wearers to become “Upper and Lower GIs.”

A waiter’s outfit partnered with someone in a jogging suit unites to “Hurry Up and Wait.”  Throw on jammies and head out with a red-spotted thermometer-bearing friend as “Sick and Tired.” Tie rocks onto one old shirt and empty paper towel rolls onto another and you’ll be ready to “Rock and Roll.”  Wear a shirt with the number 3.1415926 on it and stick with someone dressed as a pumpkin to be as cute as “Pumpkin Pi.”  Don boxing gloves and go with a hula-skirted buddy to give a “Hawaiian Punch” to the evening.

If you’re going out as a family or a group, surround one smock- and beret-wearing painter with his “works of art” who sport paint-splattered T-shirts.  Attach felt P’s to the shirts of your gang and blacken their eyes to create a bunch of black-eyed-peas.  Parents with small children can dress as farmers who trick-or-treat with kids in second-hand animal costumes and collect their treats in milk pails.

If you need more help in making costumes, plenty of supplies, how-to sheets and ideas for all capability levels are available at craft stores. Whether you are ready to sew up a storm or prefer to glue your costume together, you can find plenty of inspiration and materials.  A pink sparkly robot and a no-sew owl are just two of the costumes available for busy parents at Jo-Ann Fabrics this year.

No matter what your level of artistry, there is a costume out there for you.  If all else fails, grab a quarter and a hammer.  When asked what your costume is, just put the quarter on the table, give it a whack and say, “I’m a quarter pounder.”


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