Sunday, July 25, 2010

Celebrating Birthday's at School

Children in a New Zealand school have been banned from bringing cakes to share on their birthdays, due to new government healthy eating guidelines. As a teacher, I have had 14 years of birthdays (x30 children/per year!!) and as I have moved schools, states, countries and even hemi-spheres to teach, each and every school seems to have different rules and outlooks on celebrating your birthday at school with a cake. There are many pros and cons to what ultimately seemed such a lovely experience for a child in their school years gone by. Today's class teacher needs to not only be a teacher, but a personal pediatrician to all the children she teaches as SO many children have specific dietary requirements. Does this mean that the children who can have cake without any effects should miss out? I remember a lengthy staff discussion on this topic... a staff member pointed out that she herself had intolerance to specific foods and had done since being a child. She also went on to say that her parents had explained this to her as a young child, so she herself knew when to say no to party cake or treats at school. This she said was just part of her life style and no different to children who live with other conditions. I remember a childhood friend who was allergic to chocolate(yes that's right - chocolate can you imagine!) and at Easter time she would receive a marshmallow bunny from the Easter Bunny and her mum would give the teacher a small Mellow Bunny on the last day of school when traditionally we would all come back in from morning tea and the Easter Bunny would have hopped in and left an egg. Children are aware (or should be) of their allergies if they are THAT severe and know what they are / are not allowed to eat. Not everybody needs to miss out if it is handled well. Below I have my teacher hat on and have posted a few suggestions that help celebrate your child's birthday at school without too much fuss or disruption to the teacher's program or class.

Talk to the Teacher about the Birthday Party
Before making elaborate plans for kids birthday parties, you must speak to the teacher. Schools are creating rules and guidelines for birthday parties to help organise events and keep them from becoming outlandish. Class teacher's have crowded curriculum these days and often children have specialist teacher's towards the end of the day (music, French, sport etc) so check well in advance that the date suits the teacher. Allergies are a consideration as well. be sure to discuss with the teacher what you plan on bringing in and she/he can make you aware of the allergies within the group. ALWAYS make sure you have sufficient cake to go round.
Think Individual Thoughts
Rather than bringing a cake to school, think of serving the children individually. Large cookies or cupcakes are much easier to handle than a sheet cake that would have to be cut and served. Sheet cakes also present problems for teachers who must deal with the inevitable bickering amongst students over who gets the edge pieces and who got the pink flower versus the yellow one.

Always Include Napkins
When you go to serve your treats, you’ll be listed among the teacher’s mortal enemies if you forget napkins. Bring colourful birthday napkins for serving and cleaning up crumbs, but as those flimsy napkins arn’t especially effective at wiping up icing or other sticky messes, include a roll of heavy duty paper towels as well.

Stay and Help
Arrive just prior to the time with the treat and then stay and help serve and clean up.

Easy Step By Step
  1. Talk to your child’s teacher about birthday party policies.
  2. Plan to serve individualised servings of the treat.
  3. Include napkins and any other plastic utensils necessary.
  4. Stay and help with the clean-up.

Some of the schools I have worked in have not allowed cake/treats to be brought in. Below I have some suggestions of other ways to celebrate your child's birthday at school:

  • ask the students to donate a NEW book to their class as an alternative to bringing in treats to share. They sign the inside of their book with their name and birth date.
  • if you're lucky enough to have a summer birthday replace cake with ice-blocks (bought/handmade) that can be eaten outside under a shady tree. A lovely way to end the day for the class.
  • give the kids a pencil, rubber, small play dough pot or something school related
  • Have a great big box wrapped up in 30 layers of paper with each child receiving an organic lollipop each time the music stops. Once the last layer is opened have a big birthday card for the birthday child signed by all his/her classmates. I did this in one class and the parents prepared the game at home and brought it to school all ready to go, it was great fun. I had a standard card that I used and just inserted a photo of the birthday child on the front, very quick and simple.
  • stickers (always a winner!!)
  • have the birthday celebration just before morning tea and arrange with the teacher to come in and make fruit kebabs with the children earlier that morning. Your child will also love the fact that you have spent the morning at school with them on their birthday!
Sugar-free Cupcakes
Make cupcakes with honey or maple syrup instead of processed sugar. A basic cupcake recipe with honey includes 1 cup honey, 1 1/2 cups applesauce, 1/2 cup butter, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 cup raisins and 3 cups whole wheat flour. Mix the dry ingredients together and the wet ingredients together, and then combine everything. Mix well and bake the cupcakes in a muffin tin at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. After the cupcakes cool, frost them with a homemade whipped cream frosting (sweeten the whipped cream with maple syrup instead of sugar while you are whipping it).

This topic has been talked about and discussed over and over in classrooms for years. Like so many things in life it depends on individual schools, classes and children. A very good friend of mine, and ex-colleague from my years teaching in New Zealand had this to say:

I've been teaching a while now he he 10 plus years and have taught both in Decile 1 and Decile 10 schools... so have seen and experienced both sides of the argument.In the Decile 1 school, there was no ban on bringing cakes to celebrate birthdays... in saying that there weren't many that did or could afford to bring in something. When they did bring something in, it was usually bags of lollies and/or a bought cake.... money that lots of those families could not afford. Those that could not afford to bring food in often felt embarrassed on their birthdays that they had nothing to share.In the Decile 10 school, cakes etc were banned. I initially thought this was WAY over the top and took away from the 'giving' 'sharing' and 'fun' side of the class... BUT I have changed my opinion and now agree that cakes/lollies etc don't belong in the class for a few reasons....

1. It became extremely competitive... parents were always trying to outdo the last cake that was brought in.. it got ridiculous! bigger, more expensive, flashier etc just got way out of hand.

2. Children were putting too much pressure on their parent sot provide something for the class on their birthday.

3. ALLERGIES!! These days on average I would have at least 4 children in a class with some type of food allergy... meant that then parents felt like they had to provide an alternative for those children.

4. Learning time!! Sharing a cake would take a good 10-15 mins of the children's learning time..

I think that a birthday cake etc can be something that is shared with family and at a birthday party. Singing happy birthday to a child in class and making them feel special for that day is enough I reckon :-)

1 comment:

  1. thankyou for a very helpful post. My children are not school age yet (3 and 1) but Mr 3 is anaphlatic to egg and nuts and it's lovely when people think about him when preparing food....I'm sure I will be petrified when he starts school and is out of my sight at lunch times etc.My husband and I are trying to make him aware as possible even though he is still quite young and make him undertand that although he may be different, that's what makes him special.