School Culture

4 Earth-Friendly Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day celebrations are fun—and can also generate a lot of waste. Here’s how to show love for your classroom, your community, and the planet.

February 9, 2023
Sanja Djordjevic / iStock

The holidays are filled with joy, laughter, love, and an incredible amount of waste. The day before winter break this year, my students excitedly passed out goodie bags filled with colorful plastic trinkets, shiny stickers, and individually wrapped candies. As I watched how excited my students were, I wished that there could be a way to cultivate the same joy with less of a negative impact on the planet. 

Teaching on the island of Oahu in the island state of Hawaii, I am acutely aware of the deadly impacts of plastic waste on marine animals. By 2050, there may be more plastic in the ocean than fish. I don’t want to wait until 2050 to find out if this is true. The time to reduce waste is now, and one way schools can help is by eliminating store-bought gifts and goodie bags filled with plastic that will take generations to break down and find its way into our waterways.

Teachers and schools can adopt more sustainable practices around holidays by restricting store-bought gifts and adopting classroom celebrations that are also kind to the Earth.

Shifting To Sustainable Holiday Celebrations

When we make Earth-friendly practices a priority and set boundaries on gift-giving practices, students and families will no longer feel pressured to purchase classroom gifts for holidays throughout the year. This helps level the playing field for all students and families regardless of financial means. Making clear policies on gift giving not only helps the planet but also helps build an inclusive environment for all students and families.

Additionally, offering classroom activities as alternatives to store-bought gifts gives students opportunities to build relationships that enhance the classroom community. Restricting store-bought gifts in the classroom opens up opportunities for relationship-building activities that increase appreciation for classmates, rather than gifts.

Every holiday offers opportunities to rethink the idea of gift. When we show students that gifts do not have to be material things, it broadens their definition of the word gift. Teachers can show students that gifts can also be acts of service or a show of appreciation.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I decided to encourage my students to think about other ways to celebrate. These Earth-friendly activities are adaptable for all ages and a wonderful way to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your students.

Earth-Friendly Valentine’s Day Celebrations

1. Operation donation: Start a donation drive for a local shelter. Students and families can look through their drawers to collect unused hotel- and travel-size hygiene products in their homes. Small soaps, shampoos, and conditioners make perfect donations for shelters. Students will enjoy putting together decorated care packages for a local shelter. If time permits, students and families can help the teacher deliver the care packages to the shelter. This is a perfect way for students and families to show love for the Earth and for their community simultaneously.

2. Smile pile: Try this eco-friendly alternative to traditional Valentine’s Day cards. Instead of making envelopes and passing out store-bought valentines and candies, have students create a “smile pile.” Here’s how you do it: Encourage each student to complete the sentence starter “I love it when…” and jot their answers down. For example, one student may write, “I love it when my friends play soccer with me during recess” or “I love it when we have free time in class.” Collect the papers in a container. Students sit in a circle and pass the container around, with each student pulling out a piece to read. This is a great way to increase positivity in the classroom and get to know your students better while still reducing waste.

Working with younger students? For students in lower grades who are not yet writing, this activity can easily be done orally. The teacher can model the sentence starter orally and encourage students to repeat, moving around the circle as each student shares something they love or that makes them smile.

3. Write a love letter… to Earth: Students will enjoy this simple twist on a Valentine’s classic. Have students write a love letter to Earth. For reluctant writers, you can provide a simple template to get them started, such as “Top 10 Reasons I Love the Earth,” or have them write an acrostic poem for “I Love Earth.” 

Nonwriters can join the fun by drawing pictures showing how we can show love to our classmates, community members, and Earth. Students of all ages can engage in conversations about how vitally important our Earth is and why we need to work together to love and care for it.

This is a nice opportunity to start discussions about how love takes many different forms. Valentine’s Day is a wonderful time to show love to friends and family, as well as the Earth, which gives us a home.

4. Take action: Encourage students to go out and show love for the Earth. Provide students with a list of opportunities to volunteer in their communities. Beach clean-ups, gardening days, and other service opportunities are a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day in warmer climates. Stuck inside? Challenge students to bring in materials to upcycle into a card or a gift. Make a “Trash Breaks My Heart” bin for recyclables in the classroom. This is an awesome way to encourage students to recycle and reduce waste. Students can also show their love for the Earth by planting seeds and watching them grow.

It is my hope that teachers will use this upcoming Valentine’s Day as a jumping-off point to challenge students and families to rethink holiday celebrations. Instead of plastic trinkets and individually wrapped candies, I imagine a future where a thoughtful homemade card, a kind word, or an act of service is recognized as a true gift. I hope schools can help loving parents understand that holidays can provide a rich opportunity to slow down and invest in the things we hold closest to our hearts: our loved ones, our community, and our Earth. 

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  • School Culture
  • Environmental Education
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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