By Megan Cooley
Traditionally, a Valentines party celebrates romantic love. Adults might exchange flowers, chocolates, jewelry—or whatever else marketers successfully convince us to buy for one another every February.
Young kids, though, can’t yet grasp the concept of romantic love (thank goodness!). My preschool-age daughter and her friends often make plans to marry their dads, moms and siblings.
Why not embrace that sweet innocence with a family Valentine’s Day party on February 14? Here’s how you can create one.
Handmade invitations are a must. Give the kids some heart-shaped construction paper, white paper doilies and a bottle of glue and let the creativity flow. Or make these hugging heart Valentines, which will delight the little ones with their stretchy arms.
Of course, you don't need to send invitations if you're just inviting your immediate family, but who doesn't like to receive mail--even if it's simply slipped under a bedroom door. Plus, grandparents and cousins might enjoy coming, too.
On the invites, instruct everyone to bring with them a Valentine's Day poem to read aloud and a small gift to exchange. Gifts can be store bought, but consider setting aside time to make Valentines gifts by hand instead.
Make a Valentine's Day garland by cutting heart shapes from construction paper, punching holes on both sides of them and then attaching the hearts together with string or red and white-striped baker's twine. Hang the garland above doorways, across a fireplace mantle or above the dining room table.
You can also buy Valentine's Day garland (compare prices).
Set out a bouquet of flowers or make tissue paper flowers with the kids.
If you’re buying a bouquet of cut flowers, consider carnations. They’re inexpensive, long lasting and sturdy, even when a young child is arranging the flowers. Plus, despite their reputation for playing second fiddle to roses, they can be quite lovely when you skip the baby’s breath and bunch them tightly together.
When setting the table, tall candlesticks are a must, as are red and pink accessories, such as heart-shaped plates (compare prices), napkins, tablecloths and placemats. If you don't see products you like in the stores, you can always make your own tablecloth and napkins using Valentines themed fabric from a sewing store.
Make napkin rings by scanning vintage Valentines on your computer or searching for them on Flickr.com and then printing and cutting them into strips, wrapping the strips around the napkins and securing them in the back with tape.
Vintage Valentines also make great cupcake toppers, too.
Involve the whole family in the meal prep, from setting the menu to washing the vegetables to baking the dessert—of course considering which steps are safe for your kids to handle based on their age and abilities.
Choose healthy, kid-friendly, Valentines-themed food. A cookbook called Kitchen Playdates, by Lauren Bank Deen, offers several kid-friendly yet sophisticated recipes, as well as tips on how to involve the children in making them.
Once dinner is ready, dig in. Sometime during the meal, have everyone take a turn reading the poem they brought, whether it was written by them or a published poet. Of course, pre-readers will need someone to read their poem for them, but they could sit on the reader's lap while their poem is recited to feel some ownership in the moment.
Playing love songs during dinner also adds a nice touch. You might choose romantic standards, like "At Last," by Etta James, or more kid-themed tunes. Children's music artist Elizabeth Mitchell's songs are sweet and soft enough that they won't interfere with dinner conversation.
Your family might prefer a Valentine’s Day brunch instead of dinner. If you do, serve heart-shaped waffles, heart-shaped eggs, heart-shaped pancakes and strawberries, among other love-themed breakfast food.
After the family Valentine’s party is over, send everyone off to bed or on with their day with—what else?—a hug and a kiss.