Q: Our second-grade twins came home with class lists for their Valentine's Day exchange. Last year my son, who's a bit quirky, didn't get cards from some classmates. He was so hurt. I have nothing against "love," but this holiday seems over the top -- especially in a school that doesn't allow Christmas! How can I push back without seeming petty?
A: Most principals leave the decision of whether or not to celebrate Valentine's Day in teachers' hands. In most schools it doesn't go beyond the primary grades. While the event is set in motion, there's still time to plan an extension of the activity so that children focus on the day's original intent -- spreading good wishes and affection -- rather than how many cards and heart candies come their way.
Keith Garton, publisher of Red Chair Press books on character development, suggests approaching the teacher with this idea: Volunteer to work with the class to start a new Valentine's Day tradition of sending messages of hope and happiness to others who need a shot in the arm.
"For example, many elderly people have little contact with family and friends," he says. "It's not uncommon for them to feel sadness as they see commercials for Valentine candy and flowers. Why not devote some class time to making colorful collages for residents of local nursing homes or assisted living centers? Call to get first names so that the card collages are personalized."
Ask classmates to join you and your twins in dropping these off in person. "Your children will learn that giving a smile, good wishes and a few minutes of unexpected friendship can remedy another's loneliness," says Garton.
If the visit goes well, talk to your children's teacher about "adopting" the residents of the nursing home, says Garton.
"Plan monthly visits," he says. "For each resident, create name poems they can post on their door. Write the person's first name in a vertical line on a piece of paper. Then, beginning with each letter of the person's name, write something nice about that new friend -- something they do well, something they like or want to be remembered for. Then decorate the paper with markers, stickers and glitter. Present the name poems on one of your visits."
The class could also make and send Valentines to children who are hospitalized or in homeless shelters, or to members of the armed services who are far away from their loved ones.
"We want our children to develop character, good values and show kindness and respect to others, yet we make many of our celebrations totally kid-focused," says Garton. "Many parents want to dial this back. Our research on character development shows that children as young as second grade want to help others and understand that giving brings us pleasure."
Want to encourage your children to learn the joy of helping others? Red Chair Press is offering parents a free eBook, "The Best Birthday Gift," a heartwarming story to help a child see the benefit of listening, loving and showing respect. For more information, go to info.redchairpress.com/blog.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)