Happy Birthday to You!

[Moore, T. 2000. Happy Birthday To You. In Children and Families, 14 (Summer): page-end, Alexandria, VA: NHSA]

Birthdays are the event of a child’s life. By bringing this special celebration into the classroom, you can make birthdays a learning experience. Children can discover the nurturing value of rituals (like singing "Happy Birthday," blowing out candles, eating cake). Birthday parties can also help children develop an awareness of planning and organizing. Led by a caring teacher, parties can help children grow emotionally and socially. Integrate ideas from your curriculum to create simple but meaningful party activities. Here are some suggestions to get you started. One note of caution: Some parents, because of their religious beliefs, do not feel comfortable with birthday celebrations. Be sure to let all parents know in advance about birthday parties at school. Talk with those parents about alternative activities their children might do during a birthday party. And now, on to the festivities!

1. Decorate your classroom with art that lists the children’s birthdays. After you make posters or other artwork, note birthdays in your calendar so you can plan ahead. If some children have birthdays when your program doesn’t meet (during summer, for example), plan "half-birthday" celebrations for them.

2. Involve parents. If possible, schedule the party at a time when the birthday child’s parents can visit. Ask your parent involvement specialist to find parent-volunteers willing to help out at parties for their children and others. Should one month contain a lot of birthdays, consider designating a celebration day for all the birthdays.

3. Decide who is responsible for food and any party favors. You may choose to provide cupcakes or cake. Or you may ask parents to assume that responsibility. Be sure parents understand they must bring sufficient food for all the children in the class.

4. Ask parents to leave store-bought presents at home. Children this age are too young to sit quietly through a long session of unwrapping store-bought presents. By provoking jealous reactions, presents can also distract from the festive mood you want.

5. Consider having the "guests" make gifts for the birthday child. Set out crayons, markers, glue, fabric, buttons, and other materials. Ask children to make cards or drawings for the birthday child. The birthday child can make a present for himself or herself. Or create one big drawing together.

6. Incorporate language arts through written invitations. Ask the child if there are any special people she’d like to invite. Have the class draw invitations for those people.

7. Share social knowledge through photos. The birthday boy can bring a photo of himself as a baby, giving you an opportunity to talk about how he’s changed since then. Or you can bring a photo of yourself at the birthday child’s age, and describe life when you were three or four.

8. Give the birthday child special privileges. Perhaps the birthday girl can be line leader for the day, or designate who will be line leader. Let the birthday child choose what the group will do for 15 minutes – either a book or an activity she enjoys.

9. Select games, activities, or themes that reinforce what you are already teaching. If you are talking about animals this week, use animal place mats and play animal games. The easiest games work the best.

10. Don’t forget one lesson inherent in every birthday party – delayed gratification. Children learn an important lesson when they see that yummy cake on the table, but can’t eat it until they honor the birthday child with a rousing song.

11. Celebrate your birthday. Special volunteers or any staff member who interacts regularly with children can create a simple party to honor the teacher. By doing this, you acknowledge something grown-ups and children have in common. We all have birthdays! That realization can help a child feel closer to you.

12. Be mindful that some children have difficulty handling the extra attention sure to come on a birthday. Having a party can help children develop social and emotional competence. Most of all, enjoy yourself. Take photos. Bring noisemakers. And don’t forget to send me an invitation!

© Thomas Moore, 2000 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books "Where is Thumbkin?" and "Do You Know the Muffin Man?". He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series "Music, Movement and More". He has also produced ten recordings for children.