Benefiting From a Mistake

At the age of six or seven your birthday is a huge deal. Huge.

(Of course, that tends to be true for some folks no matter how old they are. But it’s true for all folks at six or seven.)

Now for the confession. I have done nothing for kids’ birthdays this year. Nothing. I’m sure I’ve told them happy birthday but there has been no crown, no singing, nothing. This is practically criminal as a first grade teacher.

I decided recently that it is never too late to fix this problem. I can’t start making a big deal out of birthdays as that would be terribly unfair to all the birthdays we’ve passed by so far. Instead, two or three days each week we take the last bit of the day to celebrate a student. We’re working our way through, so far we done all the birthdays in November and December. (No one in our classroom had birthdays in September or October.)

We’re making a construction paper sized poster for each child with all the ways they are special. Their name and the school year are there and then we add words as phrases about that child. Favorites are ‘good friend’, ‘nice’, ‘gentle’, ‘helpful’, and oddly enough, ‘handsome’.

By doing this we’re celebrating birthdays but, hopefully, we’re also looking at each other through a new lens. We needed to notice all the fabulousness about each other and this seemed like a good option. (Of course, we’re seeing the same traits again and again but based on kids’ facial expressions as their poster is being created, they aren’t noticing or aren’t bothered.)

The final thing I do before presenting the poster to the ‘birthday’ girl or boy is add my own word or phrase. It’s a chance for me to share something I’ve noticed that is special about each child. For one boy I wrote about his encyclopedic knowledge of animals. The girl we celebrated today was gone for a month of school not long ago. I wrote about her determination when she returned to keep up with everyone. It’s good for me to think this way about my students. I need this push just as much as they do.

This may have started as a desperate way to catch up and to build community, but it is something I plan to continue in the future. I just plan to actually do it ON a child’s birthday.

One reply

  1. Amy Barton says:

    On the day of a child’s birthday (or the designated alternate day if the birthday falls during a vacation), we add a section to our morning message called “All About ___________________.” We then ask the birthday person a few questions (favorite color, most-liked activity, etc.) to give the rest of the kids some content to refer to when they write their birthday cards. The there’s the part called “_______________ is awesome because…” where we write several reasons why the birthday person is special (“she is cute,” “she draws really well,” he includes everyone,” “he is good at iPad,” etc.). The morning message, along with birthday cards made by the class, goes home with the birthday person. THEY LOVE being the one to tell their favorites AND hear their classmates say “awesome” things about them. I just added the morning message bit this year and the kids have really enjoyed it – definitely a new tradition to carry on! I think having kids share their own positive words about their classmates really does hep them to build connections and form a community, which can be hard to do with so much academic pressure and other activity happening.

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