Gifts of Love

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A colleague and friend asked me recently if I had considered writing a book on celebrations. This led to a conversation about how so many of us struggle to find the true meaning of commercialized holidays, especially in a society riddled with comparison, hurriedness, and an insatiable appetite for material things. I wonder how our rushed energy and best intentions to turn what could be conceived as ordinary into magic, impact our children, our families, our friends and neighbors, ourselves. 

At Preschool on the Prairie, we steer clear of pop culture and commercialized holidays, leaning instead toward the natural rhythms of our bodies and our world—the changing of seasons, the winter solstice, the celebration of the first blooms in spring. However, we still honor the true meaning of the holidays many of our children and teachers celebrate outside of school. Valentine’s Day is no exception. I couldn’t imagine exchanging character cards or candy at our school; it’s more sacred than that. But we never shy away from an opportunity to celebrate and share LOVE. 

During the first year of our school, through the vision of early childhood educator Emily Land, we offered an invitation to our students at Preschool on the Prairie. We prepared items for our students to use in their individual processes—oranges, pine clippings, bird seed, cranberries — beautiful, fragrant ingredients for their creations! Each child chose a container, carefully selected items, and poured water to fill the space in between. We added a loop of twine for easy hanging. Then, we left the gifts out overnight to freeze. In the morning, students picked the perfect place for their creation. These “Gifts of Love” were shared with and for the Earth and the animals we share space with. Just yesterday I watched birds and squirrels nibbling on a gift of love hung from a tree branch—five years after our very first invitation. This is one of those traditions that stands the test of time.

This tradition has transferred to my own home and family. Each year, I prepare this invitation for our children to create Gifts of Love. This practice is play for me, too! I’m always in awe of the beauty of the materials and the unique creations of our children. Even our teenagers get excited for this edible art shared with our animal kin. Inviting children (and adults) of all ages to create something like this provides an opportunity to make art, to feel empowered, and to experience the true gift of giving. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is! 

I am not opposed to chocolates or sweet cards, and I still buy small, common gifts for my children, but my favorite thing to do during this cold season to celebrate love is invite them to share love in this simple, playful, creative way. We acknowledge all the forms of love we receive and give a little back! Those are the memory-making moments. I’ll bet this will be the memory of Valentine’s Day that my children and many of our students will carry with them throughout their life. And perhaps the love they share will come back to them. Now that’s something to celebrate! 

About the Author

Brandy Whitaker, Director of Education at Conner Prairie, is a passionate educator and brave disruptor. She brings years of classroom teaching experience, and prior to her current role, served as an assistant principal for Indianapolis Public Schools. She is proud to be an advocate for early learning. She believes childhood + play + nature = magic.