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I am thinking about Valentine’s Day a little early this year, in part because I heard an excellent story on NPR’s Morning Edition with poet and children’s fiction writer Kwame Alexander this week about how to celebrate the holiday with children. He prompted teachers to ask their students to finish the sentence: What is love?

Since I’m a big believer in taking every possible opportunity to teach children about showing others how important they are to us, this holiday provides the perfect venue for such displays. I’m not talking about candy and flowers here, but small, simple gestures of kindness and love.

As I often say, children rather than responding to lectures about being nice are more motivated by the behavior they see around them. It is easy to forget when your child is displaying oppositional behavior, but mostly, young children naturally want to be like us.

So what are some of the ways that you can celebrate this day with them? I would start by making a valentine for them, it can be as easy as a little note with a heart on it, or if you have the time and are feeling creative, it can be more elaborate. Then you can propose making valentines for others, a suggestion that I have never seen a child resist. Again, it can be as simple or as complicated as you have the time and energy for. The product, after all, is not the important part of this activity, it is the process of thinking of others and showing them that we care.

Read a children’s book with your child that reinforces the theme. Hug Time by Patrick McDonnell with its universal message that everyone and everything is better with a hug, comes to mind.

A favorite activity that I used to do with my nursery school class was making a “Valentine for the birds”. Children would slather a piece of bread with sun butter or peanut butter and cover it with bird seed, then place in a shrub in their yard or on a window sill. Waiting for the bird’s to discover it was half the fun!

Kindness for others can include family and friends, as well as our friends in nature.

Because of course, that is the real answer to the question, “What is love?”