When the shelves of CVS and Walmart burst with ginormous stuffed animals, foil-wrapped chocolate roses, and boxes of little cards illustrated with superheroes and princesses, teachers everywhere know that it's time to plan Valentine's Day at school. And, truth to tell, it's not all that much different from the V-Day celebrations we had when we were growing up.
The time-honored festival of love is celebrated in classrooms nationwide with card and candy exchanges, heart-themed decorations and lessons, and sometimes parties of the punch-and-cupcake variety. How elaborate things get (or if the holiday is celebrated at all) is up to either the school or the individual teacher. Some educators emphasize the meaning of the holiday rather than the treats; one teacher I spoke to says that she writes a note of appreciation to individual students daily throughout the month of February; another told me that she has the children draw names from a bowl and write a letter telling that person what they like about them. In my daughter's school, Valentine's Day becomes a fundraising opportunity; kids can buy chocolate roses for friends or teachers, with the proceeds going to charity.
What can you expect from your own child's school? Probably a variation of one or more of the following traditions and policies. Some you'll remember from your own school days, while others are oh-so-very 21st century.
1. Learning Will Go On
Just because it's a fun holiday doesn't mean education has to go out the window. Teachers often mix learning with Valentine fun by planning special lessons themed toward the day. Students might hone their writing skills by writing a letter to a loved one or a poem about love; create a graph of candy hearts (how many pink ones? How many purple?), play a bingo game featuring roses, hearts, and other images; and so on. So don't take your child too seriously when they report doing "nothing" at school on the 14th.
2. There May Be A No-Child-Left-Behind Policy
Many adults have memories of getting only a few Valentine cards while other classmates walked away with armfuls. To avoid that awkward situation, teachers often set a rule: If you're giving out cards, bring one for everyone in the class. If you don't already know how many kids are in your child's class (not to mention the boy:girl ratio), you'd be wise to find out at least a week in advance of V-Day.
We also discourage parents from letting their children bring in more elaborate cards or special gifts for best friends. Imagine a class full of children getting only a few cards while a classmate shows off a Beanie Baby with reversible sequins, and you'll understand how awkward that can be.
3. Crafts May Be Involved
Teachers in early education classrooms (nursery through 2nd grade) may go all Pinterest and have their students create handprint "roses," craft-stick photo frames, hearts filled with torn tissue paper, or decorated boxes for card collection. Not only do they make sweet keepsakes, they also help strengthen fine motor skills such as manipulating scissors and pinching the thumb and index finger together (a skill needed for holding a pencil).
4. Teachers May Play Down The Candy
We may love a good Peep heart or Lindt truffle as much as the next person, but we're not so crazy about the prospect of trying to maintain order in a classroom full of sugar-fueled kids. None of the teachers I spoke to has out-and-out banned Valentine's candy in class, but we do have ways of minimizing the damage. Some classrooms let kids collect their treats and then put them right in the backpack, and others plan parties for the last period, so students can work off their sugar high at home. (Sorry, moms.) Teachers might give their class a little token of affection to take home, but it'll most likely be something inedible like a heart-wrapped pencil or a coloring book.
5. Food Sensitivities May Be An Issue
While we may have grown up celebrating Valentine's Day in class with home-baked pink-frosted cupcakes and M&M cookies, our children will have different memories. Today, schools have to be cautious about treats because of the possibility a child may be allergic to nuts, eggs, dairy, wheat, or other common ingredients. Your kids' school may allow only store-bought sweets with a printed ingredients list; when in doubt, ask.
Other families may ask teachers not to give their children any goodies because they follow a vegan diet, or because they're trying to limit sugar intake. Teachers might be a bit nostalgic for the old days, but we understand that parents are trying to do what's best for their kids.
6. The Number 100 May Play A Big Part
Depending on the year and the school calendar, Valentine's Day may also be the 100th day of school. If so, your child's teacher may take advantage of that happy coincidence by finding ways to combine the two themes. The class might paste 100 candy hearts on a poster board, or make a list of the 100 things they love, or make a collage of a hundred love-related images.
7. Some Schools Don't Celebrate Valentine's Day At All
It's possible that your child may be coming home on February 14 with nothing in their backpack except a homework folder and a stray glove. Since Valentine's Day isn't a legal holiday or a standard school curriculum, it's up to schools or individual teachers as to how — or if — it should be celebrated.
A handful of schools across the country have opted to skip the holiday or offer alternatives like "Friendship Day," in the interest of inclusivity. One school in St. Paul, MN, stopped recognizing all non-federal holidays in 2016, out of respect to its culturally diverse student body. Unfortunately, a conservative website chose to report the decision as a "liberal" choice to "appease Muslims," despite a lack of evidence to back up the claim.
A sixth-grade teacher from Louisiana told The Responsive Classroom that she opts to teach a month-long "Show Appreciation" theme, rather than spend one day on hearts and candy. After discussing appreciation in class, each student chooses someone from the school whom they admire, and finds a unique way to express their thanks to that person. (That's the kind of lesson that could last a lot longer than a Hershey's Kiss attached to an Avengers card.)