A Valentine’s Tradition Your Family Will Never Forget

Is this paper-sack “map” not the most fantastic thing you’ve ever seen? :)  But look at the smiles on my children’s faces. They were so excited…

Amidst all the tasty treats and heart-shaped crafts that our family enjoys each year around Valentine’s Day, we’ve designed an extra special tradition that enables us to spend some real quality time together and create powerful, lasting memories.

We call it our, “We Love to Be a Family Day,” and seriously, it’s one of the best traditions we’ve started.

If you’d like to do something like this with your family, here’s a step-by-step guide (and a planning template!) to make it happen without a lot of stress.

This two-page planning template is simple to use and will help you organize the details of this fun activity.

But I think we need to start with the Ground Rules:

(1) It doesn’t have to be hard.

(2) It doesn’t have to be expensive.

(3) It doesn’t have to be fancy.

Here’s a little secret I’ve learned over the years.  Children don’t remember frills.  They remember substance.

I know that Pinterest is simply loaded with darling ways to give everything in the house a “Valentine’s makeover,” and it’s tempting to want to do all of it at once. But our children won’t remember all the intricate details of our pink ceramic centerpieces or the frosted roses on their pancakes.  They’ll remember how they felt while they were spending time with us.  So unless you just really like spending hours and hours with confetti, glitter, and complicated recipes, keep this as simple as possible.

Basically, “We Love to Be a Family Day” involves you (perhaps with the help of one of your older children and/or your spouse) planning several special “secret” activities that will take place on a specified day. You find an available Saturday or a whole afternoon when your family can be together, and then you let everyone know that they need to protect that day from any outside commitments.  (We usually plan ours about two weeks in advance, so everyone has time to get excited.)

And now, here are five steps to plan your memorable day of simple and fun family activities:

Step One: Do a Five-Minute Brainstorm (with your spouse or perhaps an older child who’ll be your special helper)

What activities would your family enjoy?  (We’re going to choose about seven of these ideas in the next step, so make this list as broad as you can.)

Consider coupons you have, community events, simple at-home games, service ideas, family members’ favorite foods, etc.  Honestly evaluate your energy level, the ages of your children, and the time you’ll have available.  The simpler the better.

Some ideas could include, “Crepes for breakfast, a game of Bananagrams, sweep the neighbor’s porch, soccer at the park, picnic by the fountain, call Grandma and sing her a song, and miniature golfing.”

You might want to record your brainstorm on the planning template that goes with this post.

Step Two: Select the Best Activities

Once you’ve gotten your ideas out on paper, narrow the list to a manageable number of activities that you know your family will enjoy (we do about seven).  Put them in a logical order that will work with the time of day you’ll be out and about, your family budget, and your children’s attention span.  (You might want to build up to the “best” activity.)

For our very first “We Love to Be a Family” Day, we did the following:

  • Had a group hug (okay, so not all that unique, but everyone liked it)
  • Made “I love you” cards for two of our neighbors
  • Delivered some homemade bread I’d made the day before to each of those neighbors
  • Went to the park for a picnic (enjoying our own loaf of homemade bread)
  • Roller skated around the park together
  • Dropped by a candy store to get a couple of treats
  • Went to the movie theater for a fun matinee

I really like making bread, so that wasn’t a stress, and everything else took about five minutes to plan. Here’s a little collage of our photos:

Step Three: Write Your Clues

Our children were still pretty young when we first did this, so we simply wrote each activity on the back of a little heart-shaped piece of paper (“Time to go to the park!”).

Photo by April Perry

Now that my children are getting older, we can get a little more poetic and mysterious and create fun clues to help them guess what each activity is:

For 12 whole months, you’ve been patiently waiting

to put wheels on your feet and hit the rink to go ____________!

Step Four: Create Your Treasure Map

Some parents might want to make the map in advance and have it waiting for their children when they wake up.  I wasn’t that prepared, so while my children were doing their morning jobs and getting dressed, I simply opened up a brown paper grocery sack and drew a procession of hearts to match the clues.  I think it took me three minutes, max.

But that’s the secret . . . you have to have a treasure map.  It makes it seem so “official.”

Photo submitted by April Perry

Step Five: Identify and Complete Next Actions

On the accompanying planning template, there’s a spot for you to record your associated tasks by context (errands, phone calls, at home, computer, and discussions).

On my list, I included things like, “make bread, check showtimes for the movie online, call neighbors to make sure they’ll be home, and talk with Eric to verify the date.”

Easy, right?

On the morning of this special day, we clean the house together, get everyone dressed, and tell our children what a fun day we’re going to have!

We also make plans to get back in time for naps, and I get to bed early the night before so I’m not cranky.  A crying mom totally ruins everything.  I don’t know why.

(As a little side note, this doesn’t have to happen near Valentine’s Day–or even in the month of February.  So if you have morning sickness or a stressful month of basketball practices and choir performances, just stick this idea into your “Someday” file.)

When (if) you do decide to do this activity, be sure to take lots of pictures and turn on fun music.  Time dedicated to family makes a great party.

It’s also helpful to plan that you’ll be hormonal and cranky and annoyed with everyone . . . and anticipate that your children will be whiny, unkind to each other, and disobedient.  Then you’ll be pleasantly surprised if it isn’t quite that bad!  (I don’t mean to sound like a downer, but I want to be sure you don’t set yourself up for failure here.)

I think one of the reasons families don’t typically do things like this is because the effort to keep up with the stuff that already has to be done is so high that there’s not a lot of room for the creative and fun kind of stuff.  But, it’s this creative stuff that helps you bond with your children.  You’ll feel like a really good parent.  Your kids will remember the effort you made (and they’ll forget the fact you wanted to throw in the towel after the first 15 minutes).

My children had such a great time with this in the past that they’ve asked if they can take turns each year planning the surprises.

We don’t make this hard, expensive, or fancy, but we put our best energy into showing our children how much we love them, and then all of us feel like this:

Grace drew this the other day and hung it on our fridge.  It does my heart good to see that my children consider us to be a united, loving family.

QUESTION: What are some of your most unforgettable family Valentine’s Day traditions?

CHALLENGE: Take a few minutes to plan a meaningful Valentine’s tradition for your family (whether you use this idea or one of your own).  Invest in your children’s childhood memories.

(To download the Power of Moms Planning Template, click here. )


  1. says

    Love that idea! On Valentine’s Day we now have a fancy Valentines Dinner. We set the table fancy (all stuff from $ store mostly), have my kids favorite meal, and we all dress up fancy for our dinner. It is something we definitely don’t usually do so the kids love it. Then my husband and I just go out to dinner a different night to celebrate valentines- the restaurants are less crowded that way too!

  2. Melissa says

    I love this idea! We have a really young family and are just starting our own traditions. I tend to get caught up in decorating and stressing over making things just right. This approach sounds like a lot more fun and memorable. Plus, its a way even little toddlers can be involved and have fun. Great idea!

  3. says

    Love this idea! I think I may make it a quarterly activity. Seems too fun to only do once a year! My daughter’s birthday is actually on Valentine’s day so a lot of our focus is on that. My husband and I love doing a fancy “at home” dinner after the kids go to bed one night during the month of Feb. This year we are also going to surprise them with hearts all over their bedroom, just simple made from construction paper, but each one listing something we love about them. And this is the second time in a row we will be spending some time in the month of Feb at Disneyland so I guess it now qualifies as a tradition!

    • April Perry says

      We’re just getting passes to Disneyland, Mary! We should meet up there with our kids. Happy birthday to your daughter!!

  4. Marcina says

    We have this tradition too, except we do it for our Family Birthday (our anniversary). We spend the day together in fun activities, get ourselves a gift that promotes family time, and make a cake so we can sing happy birthday to us! We love this tradition!

  5. Amy says

    LOVE THIS April!! And I love all the pointers, especially the one about expectations, I can really appreciate that. Thank you for sharing this fun tradition that I’m stealing from you NOW!!

  6. emiallen says

    We always pick two families and become their “secret valentines.” We visit them 3 or 4 times before Valentines day. The kids love it. This year I tried organizing a group of families to do each other, and I didn’t love it as much. It made me sad that they knew a surprise was coming. I like it that someone knows we love them so much we wanted them to have a really special week, no strings attached.

  7. closegirl81 says

    Love the comment of ‘family birthday’ for anniversary!
    April these ideas are wonderful, thank you x

  8. Lisa says

    What a great idea! As our family gets older and busier, I have felt the desire to find creative ways to spend time as a family. We’ve just started a Saturday Family Adventure…where we do ONE thing together as a family (a game, going swimming, or anything!) to ensure we aren’t missing out on this stage of life! I love the idea of taking an entire day and doing multiple things! Thank you!

    I’d also really like to use the template you’ve provided…but the links don’t work. Am I the only one having troubles opening it?

  9. Buffy says

    Years ago my husband and I decided we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on Valentine’s Day because we were trying to get out of debt. So instead of getting a babysitter and going out to eat, we had what we called a “lock in”.
    Basically, we lock ourselves in our bedroom for a romantic evening. The older kids take care of the little ones for a couple of hours. We tell them we are not to be disturbed unless the house is on fire or someone is bleeding! My job is to bring the sparkling cider and chocolate (of course), and his is to bring me roses. Sometimes we watch a movie on the laptop or take a bubble bath, or…whatever.;) We ended up liking it so much that it became a tradition. Our kids are older now and we don’t need to pay for babysitters, but we still look forward to our Valentines Day “lock in!”


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