As a parent, I’ve had to come to terms with the idea that Valentine’s Day now bears almost no resemblance to the holiday of my pre-kid life. And while I’ve been known to be a bit cynical about this exclusive, commercialized holiday for les amours, I was never one to complain about a nice bottle of wine and a good meal.
But these days, February 14 is less about setting the table for a romantic dinner and more about clearing a workspace for a high-volume Valentine Card production area.
If you have three kids like I do…you are looking at buying as many as 100 cards.
Valentine’s Day—or Friendship Day as many of my kids’ teachers have dubbed it—is a beloved holiday of all my kids. Unlike the stress and emotional torment of the card exchange in my youth, participation these days, while voluntary, requires that if you do send in cards, you’re sending one for every child—quite rightly, nobody is left out.
So what does participation in a Valentine’s exchange really entail then? If you have three kids like I do, and each class has between 25 and 33 kids, plus two teachers, two lunch supervisors, a principal, and vice-principal, you are looking at buying as many as 100 cards.
What’s the frugal, budget-savvy parent to do in this situation?
Well, we ignore the “time is money” adage, and we come up with a plan to affordably hand-make dozens and dozens of Valentine cards or treats with our kids in less than two weeks.
Valentine’s Day sweets
Homemade Treats: This can be as simple as Rice Krispie squares or as fancy as individual cookies and cupcakes adorned with red and pink fondant, depending on your skill and patience levels. Either way, just remember to check with the teacher beforehand on any allergies in the class to be safe.
Homemade Valentine’s Day cards for kids
While it’s more personal, and can be more cost-effective, to make cards by hand than buying boxed cards, it takes a time and planning. Here are a few tips I can pass on from my years in the Valentine’s trenches before you get started.
Start early. Like, today, early.
Make time for research: Obviously, we all know Pinterest is our first stop for DIY ideas, but don’t forget your local library is a treasure trove for DIY card ideas too. For example, I noticed this week that my library branch has set out a whole section of Valentine’s books, including some with simple and unique craft and card ideas.
Pin or flag a few of your favourites, and then let your kids pick their designs from your shortlist of pre-approved, manageable ideas.
Gather the right tools: In addition to getting a list from your kids’ teacher with every students’ name, and basic supplies on hand like the right paper for your project, markers, glue etc., I would also add some real time-saving tools like a paper cutter to your list.
Savvy DIYers also know they can head to their local office supply store with their sheets of valentines in hand, and use the paper cutters free of charge. Talk about the easy button.
Start early: like, today early. If you have beginning writers, you know how long it can take for them to write out their own name, never mind the 32 other kids’ names in their class. Ditto for cutting, pasting, colouring etc.
A few cards a day is less daunting than the whole stack at once, and generally won’t end in tears (yours or theirs).
Draw once, then copy: the basic idea of this approach is to take a picture drawn by your child, with a Happy Valentine’s Day message and their signature on it, and snap a quick photo. You can then import that photo into a word processing program, and copy and paste it as a grid of 2×3” boxes as many times as needed.
All that’s left after printing and cutting is to write the recipients’ names on the cards. This is also great for a photo-based card. Added bonus: with your child’s face on the card, they can also skip the step of signing each one.
Valentine’s Day arts and crafts
Use a template: I’m still a big fan of the old-school red heart cut-out. Make a sturdy template for your child to trace to save some time and have the whole family pitch in to help cut them out. My little trick for beginning writers is making labels from a jpeg of their signature that they can stick on each one, leaving them with just the recipients’ names to write out.
This year, my son is using this template approach to make 20+ heart-shaped paper airplanes out of red construction paper. Apologies in advance to his teacher, but I love his idea, so this one’s approved for take off.
Of course, while you’re at it, a nice gesture is sneaking in a few extra DIY Valentine’s for your kids, and even your partner, to open the morning of February 14.
Or if you’re my husband, hanging one around that bottle of wine I’ll most certainly have earned once this year’s production line is closed for the season.