By Judy M. Miller

Valentine’s Day has grown into a mega commercial holiday. My family is somewhat burned out by the parade of holidays and celebrations by the time Valentine’s Day arrives. How much more chocolate can and should a person consume? Do we really need or benefit from all of the gifts we’ve been given?

To settle things down and to focus on the meaning of Valentine’s Day we opted long ago to celebrate the day quietly to bask in the family time our kids. Perhaps you are thinking along the same lines of what you can do to make Valentine’s Day special for your child. Here are some “date” ideas that we have discovered to be well-received by our children who span a wide range of ages.

Individualized attention says, “You matter.”

One-on-one dates are among my favorite things to do with my kids; they promote communication and connection. With four kids and a busy schedule, one-on-one time is precious and a priority in our family. For that reason, I create individual allotted time with each of my kids. I encourage my kids to lead, asking them what they want to do for these one-on-one dates.

Our date may be a trip to our local organic dairy, or my child may decide on a progressive lunch, stopping in one shop for a pre-meal hot cocoa or lemonade, and then onto a restaurant for lunch and the ice cream shop for dessert. The purpose is to communicate and connect with my child.

Eat lunch with your child at school.

A school lunch date can be a surprise or planned. Go through the lunch line with your child and eat at his table if he is still at an age where he does not mind being seen with you in front of his friends.

Consider bringing in his favorite meal; my kids are crazy for sushi. Be sure to check with the school ahead of time and ask about food allergies. Pack your lunch as a picnic, complete with a fun tablecloth and cloth napkins to make lunch with him more special.

Visit the library or bookstore.

One of my daughters is a voracious reader. She appreciates the additional time in the library or bookstore. Try to find a bookstore with reading seats if this is the activity your child chooses. This way you can browse together and discover, and share. We have yet to leave the library or bookstore empty-handed.

Go for a nature walk.

I have observed that the kids I return home with after a long walk or hike are far different from the ones that left the house earlier. They are relaxed, centered, open, and connected. Drive or bike to a nature area if something is not nearby. Dress for the weather and do not forget your camera. You can do this activity as a group date or as a one-on-one.

Bake heart-shaped cookies.

My kids love to bake in the kitchen with me. The all-time favorite is a family iced sugar cookie recipe handed down through the generations on my husband’s side of the family. We use different sized and shaped hearts cookie cutters to form the cookies and slather them in red, pink and white icings and plenty of edible glitz when cooled. The kitchen is a mess, the cookies are adorable, and the kids have had a terrific time with each other and me. And, there is dessert for our Valentine’s Day dinner! Consider making a double batch and having a late dinner. Cookies have a way of disappearing when freshly baked and still warm from the oven.

Prepare and enjoy a special dinner together.

Kids can organize, wash, and measure ingredients. If old and skilled enough, children can help cut and cook some of the meal. Kids can also help set the table. We like to use the good stuff—china, crystal, and silver—and to eat by candlelight.

Before we eat we take turns sharing what we love about one another. Now that our kids are older we pass out construction paper or scrapbook paper a few days or before Valentine’s Day. We ask the kids to make a heart for everyone in the family (my husband and I do this as well) and write something appreciative. Each family member takes turns reading the love they have received; this is a great way to reinforce the love, support, and security of family.

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