May 1st is May Day—a day that many cultures have celebrated for centuries as the arrival of warmer times, of planting and of prosperity to come. Although the first day of the fifth month is not a holiday in our modern America, some of its sweetest traditions are part of our history. One tradition both easy and enriching to revive with young kids is the giving of a May Basket.
Grab some paper and follow easy steps to make a simple, looks-like-you-and-a-child-under-8 made-it basket. Then, tomorrow, fill the little basket with flowers and, if you like, a treat or two. The flowers can come from your garden or the market—either way, the goal is to spread some spring cheer and to delight your neighbor. The part our girls like best comes on May Day, when you sneak over and leave the basket on your neighbor’s porch, stoop or doorstep. The part I like best is conducting a family act of random kindness for which we get no immediate credit but a great deal of joy.
Make a basket: As inspired by Eric Carle, use crayons, markers or paint to add flair to sheets of 8 ½ x 11” paper. Lay a sheet of wax paper on top of each sheet to form an inner layer. Then, cut a 1" x 11” strip off of the two papers. Cut the 7 1/2" x 11" that remains into a flattened cone shape (see photos). Roll it into a cone and staple it. Cut around opening of the cone so it is level. Then, staple on the strip as a handle. No time to be crafty? Use any kind of basket, pail or bucket you have.Consider what to put inside: Whether or not your children know your neighbors well, talk with them about what you should put in the baskets. Ask things like, “What do you think Alan and Joyce would like in their basket?” Or “Do you think these flowers would make them happy? Yes? What else?” Gather flowers: Flowers feature prominently in both May and May baskets, though the specific flowers you have in bloom vary around the country (even our families in Arizona have some wildflowers still blooming!). If you don’t have your own garden, hit up the farmer’s market or the store for some fresh flowers.Fill the basket: Cut a few flowers so they fit in your basket. Make sure you cover the cut stems with plastic, foil or wax paper. The paper basket will be no match for wet stems. Place the flower bundle and any other tiny treats gently in the basket. Add a simple "Happy May Day" note too.Give to your neighbor: Walk it over to your neighbor's home. Simply leave it hanging on the doorknob and tiptoe away. My girls delight in the secrecy and excitement of this part! We also like to wonder a few times during the day about what our neighbors thought of their baskets, a nice chance to think even more about another person.
Why is this activity great for kids?
As you walk through each step, talk with kids, even 1-2 year olds, about what your neighbors might like or how getting your basket might make them feel. This practice with thinking about and acting on another person’s point of view develops empathy, a skill kids will need to form strong relationships and navigate social dynamics. Quite simply, it also connects kids to their neighbors, making those adults more familiar and creating a sense of community that we so often lack these days. Even if you have a very young one, he or she can participate in the process by picking or holding flowers, a marvelous sensory experience, and just observing you take time to give something lovely to someone else—what better modeling can we do for kids? If your family is like ours, you’ll gain a new tradition too!