To various cultures in the Northern Hemisphere, May 1st is May Day— a time to celebrate the good weather and bounty of spring for centuries, and the half way point between the vernal equinox and summer solstice.
One of our favorite May Day traditions is making and delivering simple May Baskets. The best part? Knowing that your neighbors and friends will get a surprise and a boost of joy!
Grab some paper, jars or cans and follow easy steps to make a simple, looks-like-you-and-a-child-made-it basket. Then, fill the little basket with flowers and, if you like, a treat or two. The flowers can be wild or even paper and child-like, too. The goal is to spread some spring cheer and to delight your neighbors and friends. The best part is on May Day morning, when you sneak over and leave the basket on your neighbor’s porch, stoop or doorstep. It’s a family act of random kindness for which we get no immediate credit—but a great deal of joy.
Make your list.
Consider who you could surprise. Wonder about the people in your neighborhood, extended friend group or family. Who loves to garden or be outdoors? Who might live on their own or might especially love/need a May Day surprise this year?
Make your baskets:
There are several ways to make a May Day basket! Here are a few favorites:
Decorated jar basket:
Start with a recycled glass jar or mason jar. You can leave it plain or use cut tissue paper and apply tissue to the glass using a 1:1 glue:water mixture to make it beautiful (see how on our Lantern Making DIY activity)!
Paper cone basket:
As inspired by Eric Carle, use crayons, markers or paint to add flair to sheets of 8 ½ x 11” paper. Cut a 1" strip off the side. Cut the 7 1/2" x 11" that remains into a flattened cone shape. Roll it into a cone and staple it. Cut around the opening of the cone so it is level. Then, staple on the strip as a handle. No time to be crafty? Use an empty jar or can and just tape or glue the pretty paper to the outside.
Recycled can basket:
Take a recycled can and remove the label. Tie decorated paper and/or ribbon around it to add a little flair. Then, add water—voila!
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 any growing nearby, hit up the farmer’s market or the store.
Fill the baskets.
Cut a few flowers so they fit in each basket. If you are making paper baskets, wrap fresh cut stems in foil or wax paper. Place the flowers gently in each basket. Add a simple "Happy May Day" note and a touch of love, too.
Deliver the baskets.
This is, by far, the best part! Take the basket to your friend's or neighbor's home and try to leave it without them seeing it to preserve the surprise. We leave ours hanging on the doorknob or in the walkway, then just tiptoe away and 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 about what your neighbors might like or how getting your basket might make them feel. 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. It can also hook kids on kindness.
The whole process also connects kids to their neighbors, making those adults more familiar and creating a sense of community. 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 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!
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Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!