Birthday Cake Blues
This week I read a blog post written by a mom who is frustrated because she can’t bring home-made baked goods into the classroom for her child’s birthday. She can’t do that because of the school’s policy that all party treats of this nature need to be commercially packaged and in some cases free of specific allergens. It is frustrating. As a parent of a child that has dietary restrictions because of a disease I understand finding ways to work around those restrictions can be maddening. However that is just not an issue that needs to exist in the classroom! Now I am aware that I have a bias. I have a child with celiac disease so reading that post instantly gets under my skin. So I have to step back and remind myself that she isn’t targeting my kid or me. She is dealing with a valid frustration to her. There is a point that I absolutely agree with her on:
“Let me get this straight: I’m supposed to feed my kids processed, preservative-laden food… How could that possibly be better? Not to mention that commercially prepared items are expensive.”
I absolutely don’t think that she should have to feed her kid anything that she doesn’t want to. I don’t think she should have to buy commercially prepared items for a classroom birthday party… but I really don’t think there should be a classroom birthday party in the first place. I know we are all nostalgic for those good old days in our youth when classroom birthday parties were all the rage. I remember back in my school days the grand ritual of the in-class birthday party. 30 minutes that were all about me, my mom made some delicious treat that I got to pass out to all my friends. We sang “Happy Birthday” to me and every thing was great. I also remember a friend of mine who was living in a single parent home. His mom worked early and came home late and we never got a treat on his birthday… we still had to sing to him on his birthday but it was less exciting for him and us because well no treat at the end. I also remember a handful of friends who had the misfortune of being born in the summer and they never got to bring in a treat to class or have the whole class sing happy birthday.
The purpose of the classroom is not to celebrate each student for things outside its purview. Teaching kids is the purpose of the classroom. A birthday celebration does nothing to advance that mission. It subtracts 10-30 mins from a the collected children’s education. Making parents pay more for treats, running the risk of a disease/allergy reaction, and/or making kids who can’t or don’t have school birthdays are just not complications we need to saddle our teachers with.
Rather than bemoan the difficulties in trying to have a classroom birthday party why don’t we focus on finding ways to improve the classrooms our children are in. We can donate supplies for classroom activities. We can donate our time to the teacher so that he/she can improve the learning environment. We can look for opportunities to help our schools keep their facilities state of the art. These are the battles in the classroom we should be fighting.
If you still want to have a classroom birthday party let me suggest the following alternatives. Donate a book to the classroom library, you can offer to come read it to the kids as part of the celebration. Donate classroom supplies a pencil, eraser, etc.. for each kid. Offer to volunteer to lead a craft, game, or activity based on a subject your child loves. Celebrations don’t need to be about the food. You might just make a memory rather than birthday cake.