In high school one of my friends and I were IM-ing (for you youngins, it was DM-info before there were DMs, on this thing called American Online Instant Messenger… ok I’ll stop) close to Valentine’s Day and he told me: “Happy almost V-day. Which sounds like D-day. Coincidence?” I’ll always remember because he had such a dry sense of humor and it was hilarious to me.
Fast forward almost a decade and a half plus two kids later, and now V-day DOES kind of feel like D-day. To give you an idea of how my life is going, I was the “didn’t-get-the-memo” mom for the winter holidays and had not prepared a gift baggie for my son’s classmates (oops). So Valentine’s Day feels like a redemption round for me personally so time to go cool mom and whip out the sweetest of candies right? Mm, it's not that simple. More schools are opting for “no-food celebrations” to separate treat foods from events like birthdays and holidays for kids. My son Lu’s preschool is one of such schools.
Now I could sit here and lament how times have changed and how it was so much better “back in the day,” where Valentine’s Day was almost like a little snippet of Halloween. Not as exciting candy-quantity wise, but with its own charming qualities like sweetheart candies and little chocolates pasted onto cards. Woe to our children, navigating such a difficult, strange world!
But you know what, no amount of privileged complaining will change the fact that the school just sent out an email to remind me NOT to bring candy. And yes, Valentine’s Day is a special time for kids, but it doesn’t have to be all about food and candy. There are plenty of other fun and creative non-food ideas to make the day extra special. So if you’re in the same boat looking for non-food and no-candy options for your children’s Valentine’s Day class gifts (and maybe even scrambling in the process, because you're my kind of people)—here are 5 ideas. And there’s even a free printable gift tag at the end!
For me, a perfect kids’ gift is not perishable but consumable supplies and also things that end up always lost or can’t get enough of. Mess-free or minimal messes would be ideal, and of course we don’t want to go bankrupt so something that has a huge bang for its buck. All of these options tick off those critera.
This is what I will be doing for Lu’s class this year. Let me just say: stickers are magical. Sure, they end up on surfaces that we’ve explicitly told the children NOT to stick on, but unless you’re using some intense glued back varieties or leave it for years, it is relatively easy to undo any mistakes. The fact that you can give a kid a bunch of stickers and a piece of paper then have them go at it (which, if you think about it, is just transferring a sticker from one paper to another… WHY IS IT SO SATISFYING???) is simply the best. And you'd be surprised to find that kids as old as 10 will still enjoy sticking these on their school notebooks. You can also use these for “journaling,” which at Lu’s age is just scribbles and stickers, but it’s a fun way to introduce that activity.
Get a big pack of stickers like this one which has 80 sheets. I'm thinking of giving each kid 3 sheets, and also throw in a couple of these waterproof ones too and still have some left over for my own kids to go wild with them.
Before I became a parent, I had no idea that this thing existed, and at first glance the name suggests that it’s some sort of witchcraft item. That’s not NOT wrong. I have no idea what this stuff is made of, but it’s like if gum had a lovechild with a pipe cleaner, without the sticky residue or the impaling wire in the middle. Kids love to mold, smoosh, and stick this stuff on various surfaces. And while you don’t get sticky hands from it, it DOES attract a lot of dust so it gets pretty disgusting pretty quick. Which means you can’t have enough of this stuff. Get the big pack because even if you have extras, trust me your kid would like it.
My second kid, Mills, is in this really charming stage right now where she peels the paper off the crayons and then calls it “naked crayon.” Which is like, cute in theory but in practice we get a bunch of really sad crayons that end up breaking—which happen anyway because when they’re toddlers and preschoolers they grip that thing like their life depends on it, or they leave it on the floor and step on it. In other words, crayons get quite a beating and deserve a damn medal.
It also means they need to be replaced often, and no parent will ever turn down a new set. Again, you're probably noticing a theme here, get a big pack and do a little assortment for each kid—if you’re feeling fancy you could even opt for the specialty set and feel extra cool.
It’s true, ask any parent and they will tell you that they’re literally drowning in toys and would love NOT to ever receive another toy as a gift. But ask if they’ll be down for some bath toys and they’ll be like… oh yea, I think we still have room for those.
I am partial to bath toys that DON’T get water in them because… gross black mold, and love this suction cup toy set of sea animals. Very on-brand with the bath theme, and can double as imaginative play toys too. It can even travel with the kid, and stick on car or plane windows. It’s also one of those toys that a parent can build on if they love it, since all suction toys can play together nicely.
Literally ANYTHING from Daiso
This last one is a bit cheating but just hear me out—Daiso is like, the best. Honestly if you just ignore all the prior ideas and instead take a trip to Daiso with no ideas or plans, you will find something pretty stellar. They are the champion in the art of knick-knackery (a true art, as we all know). Case in point, for this article I just went to the store and found these gems:
From on-brand for the holiday heart-shaped random items, to a mini lego, plastic animals, wooden food, fighter jets, and even a big sheet of stickers—seriously though, I could've gone with any of these and it would've been PERFECT. Can't say enough amazing things about them.
Oh, and I grabbed some wrapping materials for said Lu’s class Valentine’s Day gifts. Speaking of which…
A note about wrapping
One of my favorite parts about Valentine’s Day was the handwritten notes. To keep the tradition alive, I’m using the class gifts as a good writing practice for my now-discovering-writing son. We won’t be writing the names of his classmates so that the teacher doesn’t have to read and distribute 20+ gifts for 20+ names… I can’t even do the math on that which means teachers are saints and don’t deserve that kind of ludicrous task. He is so into monkeys so I made a little monkey card for him to sign and color.
And here’s that free printable I promised! There are 4 versions in one document, so feel free to print just the page that you like, whether you choose to let your kid color or want it colored already, choose based on their interest or their pronoun, or just use them all together!
This printable leaves a LOT of room for little hands to draw their large letters because for some reason, kids like to create typographic modern works of art when they’re writing for the first time, with letters of varying sizes and orientation and layout.
Once you have the cards ready, cut to size and fold, then glue or tape or laminate it together into a card. There’s a lot of different ways you can use this after you do that:
- Punch a hole and and tie the gift onto the card
- Put inside a baggie with the gift (Snack-size ziploc also works)
- Don’t glue or tape the card, and instead put it over a baggie and staple shut
And that’s it! It doesn’t need to be fancy at all, kids are just going to love the little gift and rip it open like a wild animal anyway.
Ok, sure, food-less Valentine’s Day does challenge us to think outside of what we knew… but that’s pretty consistent with the rest of parenting, isn’t it? Hope this makes V-day feel a little less chaotic and let you enjoy prepping it with your little one. Let me tell you, it’s pretty cute watching a little selfish monster do something nice for his friends—and totally makes the shitshow that is to arrange the whole thing kind of worth it. Kind of.
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