At many preschools and elementary schools, parents aren’t allowed to send cupcakes or ice cream in on their child’s birthday. While this might cause accusations of the school or teacher being scrooge-like, most of the time the reason is due to food allergies and sensitivities, as well as greater awareness of the health and behavioral implications of giving kids too much sugar, fat and food dye.
So, what can you do when it’s Suzie’s birthday and she wants to celebrate it with her class, but you’re not allowed to send in the hot pink cupcakes that she frosted herself? First, remember that not every celebration has to include food; it’s probably a good lesson for kids to learn as children! Here are a few suggestions for fun non-food celebrations that you might be able to encourage in your child’s classroom to celebrate birthdays and holidays. Remember to always check with the teacher first, particularly because some of these may take more time and energy than simply handing out a cupcake and a paper cup of fruit punch to each child.
- Send in a fun craft. Places like Oriental Trading Company often have cute crafts all set to go: order a unit of 24, and let the teacher pass out one to each child for a quick activity that requires little to nothing by way of extra supplies and cleanup. You can also make craft kids yourself by hitting up the dollar store or craft store. To make things easy on the teacher, divide the supplies into ziplock bags so they can be handed to each child. Also, avoid things requiring the use of glue, paint or glitter, as these can get messy!
- Ask about coming in to play a special game with the birthday child and the class. Your child might find it to be a special treat if you can stop in after lunch to lead a game of Four Corners or Seven Up (remember those?) on inside-play days, or kickball on a warmer day. This doesn’t have to take long, and can function as part of recess for that day. Another option would be going in to teach the kids a dance, such as the chicken dance or the electric slide.
- Send in something to be signed, along with a couple of permanent markers. A tote bag or t-shirt (slip a sheet of cardboard inside first) makes a good item. Ask the teacher to have the kids write something to the birthday boy or girl. This is a good activity that doesn’t take a large chunk of time out of the day, as each child can sign as he or she has time.
- Ask the teacher if all foods are banned, or just unhealthy foods or foods containing common or specific allergens. You might be able to send in a tray of fruit or veggies, or whole-grain muffins in lieu of cupcakes.
As long as you have the teacher’s support, you can still allow your child to have a food-free celebration at school. Keep in mind that schools may prefer to celebrate once per month to avoid a lot of classroom distraction in months with several birthdays. If no celebrations at all are allowed, keep these suggestions in mind for your child’s birthday party that she has at home!