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Creative Valentine's Day gifts for and by children make holiday sweeter -- without sugar

Creative Valentine's Day gifts for and by children make holiday sweeter -- without sugar

It may seem downright “un-Valentine-like” to refrain from giving your child a heart-shaped box of ch
Creative Valentine's Day gifts for and by children make holiday sweeter -- without sugar
Carrie Graziano and her 3-year-old daughter, Juliana, make homemade Valentine cards using rubber stamps.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

You hid their Halloween candy to no avail.

You did your best to put the brakes on their Christmas cookie consumption, and soon you’ll be doing battle with the treat-toting Easter

bunny.

But you’ll have to survive Valentine’s Day first.

In less than two weeks, sugar — in all it’s myriad shapes and forms — will again become the focus of tykes everywhere.

But while it may seem downright “un-Valentine-like” to refrain from giving your child a heart-shaped box of chocolates or at least let him have a few licks of his “bunny loot,” rest assured

you have plenty of alternatives that might just make those little ones forget about nectareous thrills

altogether.

Love of literacy

For example, parents can demonstrate their love by helping little ones nurture a passion for literacy.

Carla Blanton, a spokeswoman for The National Center for Family Literacy in Louisville, Ky., offers some fun Valentine’s Day activities that can help jump-start traditions throughout the year.

u Forget store-bought Valentines. Gather the family around the dinner table with red construction paper, scissors and crayons to create colorful, one-of-a-kind cards for loved ones and classmates. By doing so, you’ll turn a fun family activity into one of the many building blocks of a strong literacy foundation. Finish each card with a special written message.

-- Create first-letter poems using words such as heart and love. L-literacy, O-opens, V-very big, E-eyes and ears.

-- Take a “red” walk around your home or neighborhood and point out objects that are red. Encourage your child to describe the objects using other adjectives.

-- Create a family flag using photos from old newspapers and magazines that show each family member’s favorite activity.

-- Look for items in your home, at the mall or in the park that start with the letter “V.”

-- Take some Valentine’s Day-themed books out of the library and read all about the holiday romps of some beloved characters.

Share the love

Children love feeling needed, and a new initiative by the My Soldier program, called “I Heart My Soldier,” asks civilians to show their caring spirit by Valentine’s Day.

The program of Manhattanville College in Purchase hopes to ease the hardship for soldiers who are spending yet another holiday away from family and friends and was designed in response to the letters and e-mails received from soldiers at www.mysoldier.com that said the frequency of letters and packages dramatically declines after the December holidays.

“Traditionally, Valentine’s Day is a time to reach out to loved ones, family and friends,” said Juan Salas, My Soldier co-founder, active duty army 2nd Lt. and Manhattanville College graduate. “We are asking that you consider adding another group of recipients to your list. Please send a Valentine to let a soldier know you are thinking of him or to thank her for all she has done.”

Participants may opt to adopt one soldier or an entire platoon but must be willing to send each a care package that includes the following items: homemade Valentines; traditional Valentine’s candy and a small gift such as warm socks or a stuffed animal.

Salas said during his 14 months in Iraq the thing that kept him going was getting letters and cards from families, kids and total strangers.

Those wishing to participate should visit the Web site www.mysoldier.com for more information.

Going green

Try your hand at cultivating a windowsill garden with your child and help her see how a little loving care can yield greenery all year long. All that’s needed is a sunny spot and a few containers of soil to get you started. Herbs, including basil, coriander, chives, parsley and sage are an excellent choice for windowsills and are easy to grow with children who will undoubtedly love snipping off a few leaves in preparation for dinnertime.

Try recycling old pots or use plastic yogurt containers with added drainage holes. Kids also love decorating terra cotta pots with paints and beads. Be sure to label your herbs with their name and water when the soil feels dry to the touch.

Children will enjoy feeling a sense of accomplishment long after Valentine’s Day has come and gone.

Crafty and cool

Valentine’s Day is a great time to get creative.

Kim Danger, founder of Mommysavers.com and family savings expert for Coupons Inc., suggests gathering supplies to make a fun, personalized item with your child. Paint a series of rocks and give them a special place in your child’s room. Dress them with eyes and clothes if you wish, and don’t forget to name them.

Help your child make a personalized T-shirt that can be worn throughout the year.

Sit down and thumb through a photo album of your children as babies. They’ll be fascinated, and it’s a wonderful way to take a stroll down memory lane while spending quality time together.

Purchase some heart-shaped soaps and treat your daughter to a special bath. Maybe give her a pedicure or manicure in a festive shade. Then, soothe her lips with a fruit-flavored lip balm and top off the night with a movie of her choice.

Both boys and girls can enjoy whipping up some sock puppets and putting on a puppet show for friends and family, playing board games and spending time with mom or dad in a cozy living room fort.

Another fun idea, said Danger, is to create homemade play dough. “You can make it pink or red and even add a few drops of fragrance,” said the Minnesota resident.

Coupon books also work well. Children can make these for parents or vice versa.

Each coupon should include a special task or good deed you are willing to do for the other person.

“It could be clearing the dishwasher or taking out the trash,” Danger said.

Linda Schrade, owner of Saratoga Beads in Saratoga Springs, said beading is an ideal activity for bringing families together, and it has special appeal around Valentine’s.

“It is wonderful to make something for someone you love and have it be so individual,” Schrade said, noting that parents and children can make gifts for one another.

The craft experts at Michael’s in Clifton Park have plenty to offer when it comes to activities parents and children can complete together. A popular option includes decorating heart-shaped boxes with paint, glitter and sequins, said a spokeswoman for the craft supply store.

Carrie Graziano of East Greenbush said she enjoys stamping with her 3-year-old daughter, Juliana. The two team up to make original Valentines each year using rubber stamps and assorted inks and special markers.

“I really love it because it teaches about shapes and colors and it’s bonding time. It also teaches her to have pride in her work and that things don’t have to be exactly perfect,” Graziano said.

Melissa Hoopes, owner of Stampassion in Latham, where Graziano does her stamping business, said the art of stamping is broad and can appeal to people of all ages.

Games

The authors of FamilyFun.com provide suggestions for filling Valentine’s Day with loads of laughter.

Children love a challenge, and a scavenger hunt is an ideal activity. Create clues leading to little token gifts. Perhaps, you could hide a fun toothbrush or a flavored toothpaste among the items to add some pep to your child’s brushing routine.

Why not try a game of skill?

Place a bowl of candy hearts on a flat surface within easy reach of the players and hand each person a pair of chopsticks. Set a time for about two to five minutes, depending on the ages of your players.

To play, contestants start removing hearts from the bowl using only their chopsticks, placing the candies in front of them. When time is up, the player with the most hearts wins a fun prize.

Danger said with so many options for Valentine’s Day fun, there is no reason to succumb to sweets.

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