Author: MJ

Classroom Birthday Celebrations: What Happened to the Fun?

Happy Birthday Wear 'Em BadgeGuess what? Today is my birthday! That probably doesn’t mean much to you, but it made me think about how birthdays are being celebrated in the classroom these days. Or are they being celebrated at all? When I was in elementary school, if it was a student’s birthday, he or she got to bring in treats (usually cake, cupcakes, or cookies) for the whole class to share, we sang “Happy Birthday,” and the birthday person was made to feel very special for a day. It was awesome!

However, over the years, it seems that this birthday tradition has changed. When I was a substitute teacher, I was working in a second-grade classroom one day when one of the little girls told me it was her birthday. We sang “Happy Birthday” to her when the time was right, but I felt bad that there was no mention of her birthday in the teacher’s notes for me. Maybe the teacher was too ill to remember. Maybe, intentionally, there was nothing ever planned. I’ll never know.

After recently talking to some of my teacher friends, I discovered that classroom birthday celebrations are very different than they used to be, and some are even banned! They shared three main reasons for the change:

1. Birthday treats need to be healthy or not brought in at all; or they have to be non-food items.

The nutritional value of birthday treats (or lack there of) seems to be the main reason why birthday celebrations in the classroom are changing. With many schools having a Local Wellness Policy implemented, it is also carrying over into what may be brought in for birthdays. Parents are given lists of healthy alternatives that they can bring in on their child’s special day. Bringing in non-food items, such as pencils or stickers, is a great option, as well.

Also, many students have food allergies. Is it fair for those kids with nut, dairy, or some other allergies to have to watch their classmates enjoy a birthday treat that they can’t eat?

2. Birthday celebrations cut down on academic instruction time.

With more and more pressure for students to meet or exceed content standards, the “fun” things at school are being put to the side, including art and music lessons. Academic instruction time is spent on core subject areas. With around 30 student birthdays to celebrate in a school year, that adds up quickly and deducts from much-needed instruction time. Some schools have even said that any sort of classroom celebration must be held at the end of the day, after the majority of core learning is done.

3. Some families can’t afford to bring in birthday treats (healthy or not) to share with the whole class.

Budgets are tight these days, and for many families, spending money on birthday treats for the whole class and the teacher(s) is not a priority. Some students get hurt feelings when it’s their birthday and they don’t have anything to share with their classmates. It’s easier to cut out the birthday treats entirely than to have students with sad feelings on their birthdays because they can’t do what their friends do.

I understand the reasoning behind minimizing birthday celebrations in the classroom, but I think it’s so important to boost your students’ self esteem and make them feel special—especially on their birthdays.

So, what’s a teacher to do?

One of my teacher friends said that in her classroom, they dedicate 20 minutes on the first Friday every month to celebrate those students with birthdays that month. (For those students who have birthdays when school is not in session, they celebrate their birthdays on the closest month that school is in session.) They sing “Happy Birthday,” and they enjoy a healthy snack together—such as pretzels, carrots with dip, or fruit slices—which the parents usually bring in.

At my aunt’s school, they aren’t allowed to celebrate birthdays at all! A quick “Happy Birthday” at the start of the school day is all that her students get. She usually gives the birthday student a birthday sticker and/or a birthday crown to wear for the day to make him or her feel special.

Another teacher said that when it’s one of his students’ birthdays, the birthday person gets to be the “Star Student.” For the whole day, the Star Student gets to choose any or all of the classroom jobs that he or she wants. For example, many students choose to be the line leader and the materials passer on their day. The birthday student also gets to choose their playground equipment first and be dismissed to go home first. The painting done by a playground line marking company was a big hit in our school. He said, “Basically, whatever comes up that day that involves choosing a student for something, I always ask the Star Student first. It doesn’t cost me anything, and they love it.”

What about for you? How are you allowed to celebrate student birthdays at your school?

Kid Tested, Teacher and Parent Approved

As a former teacher and as a mother of an energetic preschooler, I am always looking for new learning products that will excite and entertain my son.  Some of my favorites are the workbooks from the Ready-Set-Learn series.  I really think that these books are must-haves for parents of young children. There are so many titles to choose from that cover several different skills.  So far for my 4-year-old, I have bought Preschool Activities, Preschool Fun, Alphabet, and Beginning Math.  We skip around and work on pages out of each of them in random order.  Jack likes choosing the pages.  Each workbook comes with 180 stickers and a reward chart to track progress.
After completing each page, Jack loves to put one sticker on the finished page and one on the racetrack reward chart, and then he can’t wait to start on his next page.  He is getting so much practice with academic skills all while loving every minute of it.  It makes mommy so happy, too!  I always keep one book in the car and one at Grandma’s house.  I love taking them with us to restaurants because they keep him seated, quiet, and engaged—and it always impresses those waiting on our table!  I also buy them for other kids as birthday presents.  They’re only $2.99 each, so I can’t pass up the great deal.

Here are some sample pages from Ready-Set-Learn: Preschool Activities and Ready-Set-Learn: Beginning Math PreK-K

“Ouch, My Neck! Ouch, My Back!” Creating Art Michelangelo Style

“Ouch, my neck!” and “Ouch, my back!” were frequent sayings I heard while teaching an art lesson on Michelangelo and how he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. I was student teaching in a third-grade classroom and I had to plan a great, engaging lesson because my student teaching supervisor was coming in to supervise and evaluate my teaching for the first time. Scary! I found this great lesson in one of my master teacher’s resource books. It was TCR’s Focus on Artists book. Who knew that I’d be working as an editor at    TCR years later!

So I had it all planned out . . . During recess, I quickly taped a blank sheet of paper underneath each student’s desk. My supervisor and the students arrived at the door of the classroom just as I had finished. To start the lesson, I introduced who Michelangelo was, and together as a class, we read some background information about him and how he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I also brought in pictures of him and his work to show the class.

Then I told the students that they were going to create art to simulate the way Michelangelo painted the famous ceiling. I told everyone to, “get out their crayons and lay on the floor, underneath the desks.” Nobody moved at first. The looks on their faces were priceless. After a few confused seconds, everyone did as they were told and were surprised to see that a sheet of paper had been taped underneath their desks that whole time. (The fact that I had taped them all ahead of time really saved on wasted class time, too.)

The students had a blast drawing upside down, but they did not enjoy the pain and discomfort they felt while doing it! It was great to see that they truly understood what a great undertaking the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling was. Their feelings became even more evident to me after reading their reflections later. The next day, the students were happily surprised when they saw all of their artwork nicely displayed on the ceiling of the classroom!

Needless to say, I was so happy with the way the lesson turned out, and so was my supervisor. (Check out some of the pictures from my lesson.) So if you’re looking for a fun and different lesson idea, try this one in your class and see the smiling (and aching) expressions on the faces of your students today! I’d love to hear about your students’ reactions.

Michelangelo Style Art Lesson

Creating Art Michelangelo Style

Michelangelo Art Lesson