How to add a personal touch to valentine cards (without going the homemade route!)

Valentine's Day might seem like a long way out, and you might think you have plenty of time to prepare. For the most part, I'd agree -- unless either of these situations apply to you:

1) You want to go out on Valentine's Day
2) Your kid wants to make all his own Valentine cards.

The first situation is something every male over 18 knows. If you don't make restaurant reservations and order flowers at least 2 weeks beforehand, chances are you'll be taking your date out to a fast food restaurant and getting her carnations. Actually, it might already be too late -- maybe the cutoff date was January 2. Since I'm not a male over 18, I'm not quite sure.

The second situation is something every mom with kids over 4 knows. Practically every preschool and elementary school these days asks that if your child sends one card to classmate, he has to send a card to all his classmates. So if he wants to make his own Valentine cards, you're looking at anywhere from 20-30 homemade cards if he's in elementary school, or 10-20 cards for preschool. Folding a piece of red paper in half, drawing a red heart and scribbling a message might not sound like a big deal, but when you have to do 20 of them, it gets pretty old. Add to that all the fancy lace and hearts and popup features he wants to add (not to mention that if your child is a preschooler, it will take him hours just to write a single Happy Valentine's Day), and all of a sudden Valentine's Day is just around the corner!

I'll be the first person to say that you can't beat a homemade card. It keeps the holiday simple and sweet, and it really gives your child's cards a personal touch. But let's face it, time is of the essence, and your kid's classmates won't care. So I like to find a happy medium -- save the handmade cards for grandma, and resort to store-bought cards for classmates, but add a personal touch that elevates it beyond the usual generic scrap of paper with the latest cartoon character printed on the front. Here are some ideas your child can use to make his classroom valentines personal and unique:

* Write or draw a personal message. Just because it's a store bought card doesn't mean you can't make it personal. Have your child write a special message for each child, or if your child is preschooler, have her draw a heart or a rainbow.

* Attach a piece of candy to the valentine card. Buy a pack of heart-shaped lollipops or Hershey's kisses or heart-shaped chocolate from the drugstore, then tape or tie a piece to each valentine card.

* Give home-baked goods. This year The Pea wants to give cake pops to all her classmates. We'll probably do red velvet cake pops, dipped in white or red candy melts, with pink or white sprinkles on top. We'll wrap up the cake pops in cellophane, tie a red ribbon to seal it up, and attach a tiny valentine card to the ribbon. You can also bake cookies or brownies, and package them individually. Cute and sweet, what else do you need?

* Order personalized valentine's cards. This year I've seen an explosion of online stationary companies offering personalized kids' valentines -- but I'm sticking to my favorite, Tiny Prints. They have some really adorable designs, and I can't understate the convenience of personalizing them with your child's name, especially if your child is in preschool and can't write his name very well yet, let alone write it 30 times. In any case, I think most of the designs work best for kids aged 7 and under anyway, and I'd probably save the valentine cards with photos for grandparents -- but there are a few designs that I know my 10 year-old daughter would love, particularly Love and Peace, Hogs and Kisses (pigs are her favorite!) and Etch a Heart (great to give to the boys in her class because it's not girly and it doesn't have a mushy message).

Disclaimer: I will be receiving free Valentine cards courtesy of Tiny Prints as a thank-you for writing this post. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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