I like to think that almost every child loves celebrating their birthday at school. I know my kids do! They enjoy bringing treats to class, handing them out to their classmates and taking “extras” to the other teachers. Their teacher makes them a paper crown, everyone sings happy birthday and somehow they always manage to be the “class leader” for the day. Indeed, it is a very special day for them.
But with increased awareness of food allergies, food safety and an overabundance of “treats” (sugary juices, sodas, candies and cookies) in our schools, some parents want to cut out the junk food treats. How, then, do you make your child’s birthday at school special without sending the entire class on a sugar high? Here are some ideas for a special, sugar-free birthday celebration for your child’s class:
1. Books! Every teacher loves books. Buy a special book, or a new copy of your child’s favorite book, and donate it to the classroom collection or the library. You can include a note in the front cover with your child’s name and birth date. As an extra special treat, read it to the class! Children of all ages tend to love it when a parent comes to read to the class and teachers love parental involvement. (Hint: If your school hosts a book fair, look for the teacher’s wishlist. Your child can pick a book from the list to purchase and donate to the teacher.)
2. Movies! Ask the teacher if you can bring in a short, special movie for the classroom to watch.
3. Arts and crafts! Is your child especially “crafty”? Check a dollar store or the dollar bins for inexpensive craft supplies or ideas. You could put together a small craft for the whole class to make and take home.
4. School supplies! Again, dollar bins or bulk school supply companies have pencils, erasers and mini boxes of crayons for a small price. You could get little supplies with their favorite character or color on it and pass it out to the class. I’ve found pencils, seasonal pads of paper, erasers, rulers and the like on clearance after the holidays. If you buy ahead, you can put together little school supply bags for much, much less than the cost of cookies or a cake for the class.
5. Recess equipment! Although recess supplies (balls, chalk, jump ropes, etc.) vary by schools, many grades or classrooms have their own box of outdoor equipment. Ask the teacher if they need to have any items replaced. Jump ropes, balls, and chalk can be found at many stores for a few dollars. Present the items to the teacher in front of the class and send a note home with each child, explaining that the item was donated for your child’s birthday. If you like, you could also gift each child with a small item like the one you donated, such as a small bouncy ball instead of a big ball. Not only are you giving the school something they need, you are giving each child the gift of exercise.
6. A donation to a worthy cause! Some schools have a cause they support, often in honor of a student. My son’s school supports diabetes research in honor of a student with type 1 diabetes. When I was teaching, we often had fundraisers for a student with cancer. You could also donate goods to a cause your child loves, like the animal shelter, or one that supports children. The donation can be small (a dollar or less per child, perhaps). Be sure to explain to the class just what the money will buy. For example, “A teddy bear for a lost or hurt child costs two dollars. We donated twenty dollars and the police department was able to buy ten bears! We were able to help ten children!”
If you or your child really want to bring food items to school, there are some sweet yet healthy alternatives:
1. 100% fruit or fruit juice popsicles. These are especially welcome on hot days!
2. Fruit or veggie breads. Have the Birthday Kid help you make muffins or mini-muffins out of their favorite recipe. These tend to be less messy and are great for the preschool or kindergarten crowd.
3. All-natural yogurts or fruit leathers. It’s so wonderful that parents can now bring in “fruit snacks” that are made from natural ingredients and do not contain HFCS. They are a sweet little treat you can feel good about!
4. Trail mix made with healthy ingredients. The students can have fun helping mix together cereal, dried fruit and other items for a healthy, fun snack.
5. Cookies. Yes, cookies! Cookies can be made with whole grains, dried fruit, and little sugar. There are a variety of fun, wholesome recipes on the Internet and the students will never know they are gobbling down flax seed and whole wheat!
We have a birthday coming up soon; BigBrother will be seven. He wants to give a copy of Go, Dog. Go! to his school. I can’t really turn down that sweet request, can I?
Photo credit: The Laughing Squid on Flickr