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Valentine’s Day Teaching Resources

Flowers, candy, and cards decorated with hearts are used by many to express love to that special someone.  The day offers many fun and creative ways to teach about friendships, poetry and prose, marriage, and relationships.

History of Valentine’s Day

Despite flowers being the number one gift given on Valentine’s Day, the holiday’s origin is not so rosy. 

The real Valentine

The most noted theory about how Valentine’s Day began, is rooted in Ancient Rome.  In the third century CE, the Roman emperor Claudius II wanted to develop a fierce team of young men to be soldiers in his legions.  It was his belief that when young men are in love, this makes them weak.  Naturally, a man with a wife and children tended to be more cautious in how he fought on the battlefield.  So, Claudius outlawed marriage for young men serving in the Roman armies.

Well, not everyone or everything can be commanded by an emperor.  As Claudius found out, he could outlaw love, but he could not stop it.  Young men and women still fell in love and wanted to marry.  A brave Christian priest named Valentine, who thought the law was horribly unjust, risked his life to perform the banned wedding ceremonies in secret.

News of Valentine’s clandestine ceremonies made its way back to the emperor.  The cleric was arrested, and while in prison, Valentine sent a love letter to a young woman — possibly his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his imprisonment.  He allegedly signed it “From your Valentine”, hence the expression.  He was executed soon afterward.  Centuries later, when the Roman Catholic Church made the kindly priest a saint, St. Valentine’s feast day — February 14 — was chosen because it was the day he was put to death.

Literature of love

It wasn’t until almost 1,000 years later that the first known Valentine’s Day poem was written.  It also was penned by a prisoner, and was sent from the Tower of London to the prisoner’s wife in 1415.

My very gentle Valentine,

Since for me you were born too soon,

And I for you was born too late.

God forgives him who has estranged

Me from you for the whole year.

I am already sick of love,

My very gentle Valentine.

Well, not the most remarkable of poems, but it’s good for a first effort.

Everyone is familiar with Shakespeare’s love sonnets, most notably number 18 which starts out famously: 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

And there’s Scotland’s remarkable bard Robert Burns: 

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

   That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

   That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

   So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

   Till a’ the seas gang dry.

And then there are the first love poems written by school kids:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Faces like yours

Belong in the zoo

The economics of true love

In the 21st century, greeting card companies each year produce over a billion cards of love and affection just for St. Valentine’s Day.  The impact that Valentine’s Day has on the U.S. economy is stunning.  In 2019, more than $20.7 billion was spent on the holiday.  It’s thought the most expensive Valentine’s Day gift ever purchased is a heart shaped 1001 Nights Diamond Purse.  Decorated with over 4500 yellow, pink and transparent diamonds totalling 38,192 carats, the retail value of the gift is a gobsmacking $3.8 million.

Valentine’s Day symbols

  • Red Roses: the most popular flower of Valentine’s Day, this enduring symbol of passion, beauty, and love has the power to impress anyone when a dozen of the long-stemmed variety are wrapped in a large bouquet.  An ancient Roman legend has it that a beautiful maiden, Rodanthe, locked herself indoors while being pursued by overzealous suitors. When they eventually broke down her door, an enraged goddess Diana changed Rodanthe into a beautiful red rose and turned the suitors into thorns.
  • Cupid: He was the son of Venus (goddess of love) and Mercury (the winged messenger of the gods).  This mischievous little god carried around a quiver of arrows tipped with love potion.  Anyone struck by one of Cupid’s arrows would fall in love with the first person they saw.
  • Chocolates: Since ancient times, chocolates have been associated with sensuality and fertility.  This is perhaps because when eaten, chocolate stimulates the production of a hormone that is similar to the chemical produced when a person is in love.

Valentine’s Day Around the World

Although Valentine’s Day started as a Catholic feast day, the saint’s death and the tradition of love that he exemplified is celebrated worldwide by people of many faiths.  People send cards, flowers, and candy in many countries.

  • In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is the time when many young couples marry in an event sponsored by the government as a form of public service
  • In Ghana, February 14 is celebrated as “National Chocolate Day”.  The Ghana government established this day in 2007 to increase tourism in the country, as Ghana is among the largest cocoa-producing countries in the world.
  • In Bulgaria on February 14, the “day of winemakers” (San Trifon Zartan) is celebrated.  Young and old couples celebrate their love with a glass of local wine.
  • In Denmark, Valentine’s Day is not limited to roses and chocolates. Friends and lovers exchange handmade cards with pressed white flowers that are called snowdrops
  • In Estonia, February 14 is celebrated as a friendship day known as Sobrapaev. This festival includes everyone, from couples to singles
  • In Japan on February 14, women buy gifts and chocolates for their male companions.  Men can’t return gifts until March 14, which is called the “white day”.
  • In England on Valentine’s Day, women used to place five bay leaves on their pillows.  It was believed this would bring them dreams of their future husbands.

In Slovenia, St. Valentine is a patron saint of spring.  It’s thought that on February 14, plants start to regenerate.  This day marks the first day of working in the fields for the New Year.  Slovenians also believe that birds ‘propose’ to each other on this day, and to witness this occasion, one must walk barefoot through the frozen fields.

Resources for Teaching about and around Valentine’s Day

Help Teaching has many fun educational resources which use the holiday to teach math and English.

Worksheets

 KidsKonnect.com has Valentine’s Day Facts and Worksheets, and check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org:

Lesson plans

Videos

Image source

Observing Martin Luther King Day

On the third Monday of January each year (in 2021, that’s 18 January), Martin Luther King Day is observed and celebrated through service in the US. Learn more about MLK and his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement here!

Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Born on January 15, 1929, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christian pastor, a leader of the civil rights movement in America, Nobel laureate, and anti-war activist.  King was the conscience of a nation as he stood up in the face of institutional racism leading millions to demonstrate against the injustices of American society.  King’s embodiment of the non-violent methods used to protest racial discrimination changed the course of history.  He remains an inspiration to generations of people regardless of their racial and ethnic background.

His birth name was Michael, as was his father’s.  After a trip to Germany, where the elder King became impressed by the life of the Reformation priest Martin Luther, Michael’s father changed his name to Martin.  Soon the younger King would also adopt the name.  That’s not the only thing Martin, Jr. would imitate from his father’s life.  After undergoing seminary training, the young MLK would eventually join his father as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was famous for many accomplishments, but perhaps his greatest legacy is not in his achievements but in his methods.  Nonviolence was the hallmark of King’s success at leading a movement for civil rights for African Americans.  King fused his belief in the Christian doctrine of love, espoused by Jesus, with the non-violent political resistance demonstrated by Mohandas K. Gandhi.  King said this powerful combination gave him the method for social reform he needed.

Civil Rights Movement

King went to segregated schools in Georgia, and this experience of discrimination led him to become a strong proponent for civil rights for African Americans.  While serving as a pastor, he was also a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  This prepared him to take on a leadership role in one of America’s greatest non-violent demonstrations — the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955.

Montgomery bus boycott

The boycott began when a Black woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat in the “whites only” section of a bus.  This year-long political demonstration when Black passengers refused to ride on the city’s bus services because they were treated as second class citizens to white passengers captured the nation’s attention and catapulted King to fame.  During the boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, and he was subjected to personal abuse, as were other protesters.  Yet his unwavering commitment to non-violence in the face of police aggression set in motion a political movement the country had rarely before seen.

Greater leadership

By 1957, King became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which bolstered the burgeoning civil rights movement.  For the next decade, MLK would travel more than six million miles giving speeches, leading demonstrations, and at times being imprisoned, physically threatened, and beaten.  He led voter registration drives, organized the peaceful March on Washington where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and gave advice to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Accomplished author

MLK wrote many books including Stride Toward Freedom, his first book.  It recounts the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  The famous 1967 Massey Lectures which King gave through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation are collected in The Trumpet of Conscience.  In the lectures, King addressed the Vietnam War and civil disobedience.  In 1963, he wrote the movement’s seminal work “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.  In a triumph of oratory, the letter is a scathing indictment of white church leaders who preach the love of God but do nothing to stop the injustices God despises.  King said that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws and to take direct action rather than waiting forever for justice to come through the courts.  The letter contains one of most memorable King quotes: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Nobel Peace Prize

King was awarded five honorary degrees in his lifetime, was named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine in 1963, and received, at age 35, one of the world’s most prestigious awards — the Nobel Peace Prize.  In his acceptance speech, King said, “…man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

Tragic Death

On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, King was assassinated by a lone gunman.  He was just 39.

Honoring King’s Legacy

Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and sometimes referred to as MLK Day) is a federal holiday marking the birthday of the civil rights leader.  It is observed each year on the third Monday of January.  King’s birthday is January 15.  Known as “a day on, not a day off”, the holiday is an opportunity for adults and children to spend their day off from work and school performing acts of service.  Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law to create the federal holiday honoring King.  The national Martin Luther King Day of Service was started by U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and U.S. Representative John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act.  This federal legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Resources for Learning about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement

Help Teaching has created many educational resources for this holiday.

KidsKonnect.com has a library full of MLK-related activities

Check out these free resources from BusyTeacher.org.

These groups and institutions can also help you teach about MLK Day:

Learning at home and online

Watch the short video; then do any of the activities created by Discover EducationTry making these I Have a Dream mobiles from the National Constitution Center

Recommended Videos

Recommended Books

Service activities online

Webinars and online educational events

Or skip the video and download a pdf of the slides from the presentation

If you’re looking for more worksheets for elementary and middle school kids, be sure to check out KidsKonnect’s library of Black History worksheets! For high school students, visit SchoolHistory.co.uk for UK and International curriculum history resources!

Image source: Photo by Ilse Orsel on Unsplash