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Birthday Celebrations at School: Songs, Treats, Other?

It was my son's birthday celebration at school the other day, and - when I handed the teacher four 8-by-10 photos to represent each year of his life along with a few sentences about his personality at those ages - I sheepishly said, "I didn't bring a treat or anything."  

She said, "That's ok."

My son has told me that they sometimes have ice cream at school to celebrate a birthday.  Or perhaps they have cupcakes but he cannot have one "because I'm allergic".  When one mama wrote: 

My children's school got around this whole issue by making birthdays party- and treat-free (much to many parents' relief). Instead, the birthday child can choose to have a "birthday book" celebration. He or she brings a book from home to share with the class. After the book is read, the child can either take the book home or donate it to the classroom library. My older son has always chosen to skip the celebration. I'm curious what my younger son will choose.

With our older children, I have probably sent some kind of "treat" about half of the time.  For one of my daughters, it was often grapes or clementine oranges, as these were her favorite fruits.  Sometimes I would do mini corn muffins or dried cranberries.  Mostly, though, it was a stressor for us and I wondered if we really needed to go through the exercise.  I wouldn't mind a treat-free policy for birthday celebration at schools, I'll be honest.  I would rather prepare some photos to share with the class and I have previously come into my child's class on the birthday itself to share 10 or 15 minutes of stories and photos of my little celebrant.  It makes them feel like royalty!

How do you feel about birthday celebrations at school?  What are your favorite ways to celebrate?


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Last year, one of my daughter's former teachers was put on the spot when, without warning, a child's parents brought a huge decorated cake in for a birthday. My understanding is that all outside prepared food needs to be prepackaged with the manufacturers label on it (so they can check for ingredients and allergens), but regardless, a giant cake is a huge disruption. I don't remember birthday celebrations in class at all as a child. Maybe they happened, but they were unmemorable? In any case, I think a round of happy birthday and maybe a card signed by the kids and the teacher should be more than sufficient, once they hit grade school. Between holidays and birthdays, head lice and the flu, it's nothing short of miraculous how much these teachers are able to get done.

I appreciate treat-free celebrations, because my kiddo has major allergies, and so he always feels left out if there are snacks. And I honestly wouldn't want my kids to have a sugar bomb in the middle of their school day anyway.

My kid's schools have all done birthdays with treats and my kids have always enjoyed it.

I don't see why singing happy birthday isn't enough. The kids who can have the treats don't need all that sugar in the middle of the day and kids who have diabetes and food allergies feel left out. If families really want to pass out treats, couldn't they do stickers or something that isn't edible and save the treats for the birthday party?

I work in an elementary school, and am also a parent. As a parent, I always appreciate any chance my children have the chance to shine and be made to feel special by others, whether it be in school, with relatives or with their friends. Birthdays are definitely a milestone to recognize, so as a family we make sure to honor it as such on our own. But I will send a special note in their lunchbox, visit their class to volunteer my time on that day, read a favorite book, etc. I'm always humbled and reminded by what a long way that goes both for my kids and with their teacher when often I'm not as available due to my work schedule.
As an educator, I've seen first hand how birthdays can be another such special occasion to recognize in school, but have also seen the downsides played out such as those with allergies being excluded from treats, children from lower income families whose parents don't have the financial means or time away from work to feed an entire class with cupcakes, the compounded learning time lost when you add up the multiple birthday celebrations that takes away from teaching time, etc.
Our school has been trying to focus more on wellness and moving away from bringing food for every holiday and individual birthdays, more towards sharing a favorite book with the class or having a small celebration once a month to honor each birthday member of that month and tying it into sharing time, cultural events, etc. We've seen success so far doing it this way; the focus is more on the child now than on the food.

My daughter's classes do a once-a-month birthday celebration (adding in all summer birthdays to the June celebration). All kids with birthdays celebrate that day--some teachers have done birthday crowns, others cards that are signed by all the kids.

Parents sign up to bring in treats or drinks or cups/napkins. We usually do the mini-cupcakes, which are no more than two or three mouthfuls. I understand that somewhat addresses the sugar concerns but not the allergy concerns.

Since the kids usually have snack time in the afternoon anyway, the birthday celebration just replaces snack time once a month.

Beaverton School District allows no sugar treats and our school holds to that completely. There is no outside celebration brought in for birthdays. There are 3 parties a year and that's it (Fall, Winter, and Valentines).

Teachers typically sing a song or something once a week for any birthdays that week. The principal also has a once a month "Birthday Lunch" with the kids in her office.

I hate to be a scrooge (wrong holiday, I know), but birthdays shouldn't be in school more than that. It's a family affair.

This is not part of my life, but I am also aware that there are religions that do not celebrate any of these holidays, including birthdays. Maybe this is not a large percentage, but let's not forget this group when we talk about kids feeling excluded.

My son entered Kindergarten last year. I had heard stories from friends about the zillion occasions during the year that kids are fed candy and treats at school. We do not eat sugary processed foods at home and I felt like it was going to be out of my control what my son was going to be offered at school during birthday celebrations and parties. I am so against feeding other people's children sugar. I feel especially concerned about it in a school setting where you might not know all of the children and their beliefs and values. It was one of my main concerns entering PPS.
I must say I was thrilled to find out that my son's school does not allow birthday treats. They honor birthdays differently in each of the classes, but they don't involve cupcakes. In his class this year, a child can donate a book to the classroom and they do a special song and celebration of the child.

I'm old school, I guess. I make cupcakes (mini) and bring them in for my kids' birthdays in school. The teachers always let parents know at the beginning of the year whether any kids in the class are allergic to anything, and so far it hasn't been a problem. Teachers at our school (PPS) don't hand out candy as rewards or use them as part of math instruction (as I've heard about at other schools) and homemade treats are welcomed.

I am old school, too. I have very fond memories of my mom making peanut butter cookies (my favorite) and sharing them with my classmates for each birthday during elementary school. I would love for my daughter to have that same experience in school.

I now live in Silicon Valley after many years in Portland (where we did birthday celebrations in school) and there are many different cultures/races/traditions represented at my children's school and we do full birthdays. The kids love it and often bring homemade treats that are part of their cultural backgrounds although a huge favorite regardless of culture or length of time in the country are donut holes. It is interesting that there is actually more tolerance in such a diverse place than in homogeneous Portland.

Anon, if I could "like" your comment I would. I personally used to love donut holes. I see the appeal.

I would prefer to see a non-treat emphasis on the classroom celebrations. I know many families do not have the time to make homemade cupcakes or cookies, nor do they have the resources to go buy a few packs at the supermarket enough for 20-30 children. I love international and cultural treats, but I know for the culture of my heritage, treats would probably be higher in refine sugars than the typical American sugary treat.

We never celebrated birthdays at school growing up in the 70s in Massachusetts, except for singing the birthday song. I had a summer birthday, and my daughter does too. I am relieved that I have never had to decide whether or not to bring treats. And as a working mom, I was not aware for some time that the treat thing was even happening. I WOULD hate for my daughter to feel singled out if she was the only kid whose mom didn't bring treats for her birthday, but I don't think that's the case. But I don't really mind if she eats the treats provided; granted she has no dietary restrictions.

Zinemama, I'm nostalgic in many ways too, and have fond memories of homemade baked goods in my childhood for school birthdays. But did you mention your kids attend a PPS school and homemade treats are welcomed? I work in PPS and it is against protocol to serve homemade treats. Just curious, hoping your teacher knows that - not to rain on anyone's party parade, but more for his/her knowledge of district policy. As with many things, times are just so different now than when we all were kids. Not that we are big on treats in school, but if we were I'd much prefer them to be handmade than store bought or processed, but unfortunately there is just too much liability to have food brought in for children that isn't labeled with all the ingredients listed.

Debby, I grew up in 80's Manhattan, so it seems that the reason I don't remember class birthdays is because there weren't any. I think I vaguely remember a crown or something in the younger grades, although, I could be confusing it with the ever popular McDonalds Playland birthday party.

We are at a PPS school and the school eliminated treats for birthdays about 3 years ago. Celebration policy differs by teacher. Last year my son's class celebrated birthdays by season with a small recognition by the class. This year birthday kids in my kinder daughter's class get to pick out the book for story time and dress up with something from the special bday costume box. They sing then kids can make a picture for the celebrant at choice time. The treats had gotten out of hand, took too much class time and made many kids feel bad if their treats weren't big enough or if they had allergy issues.

My son just had his 4th birthday, and because daycare policies around birthdays are always changing I asked the teacher. Nothing sugary was his answer. So I made a batch of flubber and put it in individual 4 oz containers for each child to take home and play with. It was a hit, and I received a nice thank you letter from one of the other parents with pictures of their girls playing with the flubber.

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