The Things We’ve Always Done
We are creatures of habit. Our days are structured around routines. Our years follow a cycle of curriculum and events. By nature, much of life as an educator is set to: repeat.
With all that repeats year after year, it’s important to check in and reflect, Does this fit with who we are?
My colleagues and I reflected upon a repeated tradition — birthday celebrations. A few years back, we decided to replace individual treat celebrations with monthly, shared birthday celebrations. This meant less time was taken from learning. However, it still didn’t quite feel right.
Before making any decisions, we centered our thinking: Who Are We?
Celebrators of culture, nurturers of identity, partners with families, inviters of conversation, welcomers to all, curators of inclusive libraries, readers and writers, advocates of mental and physical health, weavers of community.
The focus of birthdays had become sugary treats, goodie bags, all of the “stuff” — none of which aligned with our beliefs about school.
We agreed to stop celebrating birthdays this way. Instead, each classroom community would create special rituals for birthdays.
Deciding Upon Our Birthday Rituals
As we plotted important events on our September calendar, Arhaan’s hand shot in the air, “My birthday is on this month!” Naturally, kindergartens began exchanging the dates of each other’s birthdays. “Are we going to have a party?” Camila asked. “We’ll need to think about ways to celebrate each other, right? Let’s plan our birthday celebrations tomorrow at morning meeting. That means you have some time to think about what you’d like to do!”
The next morning, we began our meeting by talking about why we celebrate birthdays. To be happy that we are alive! To show that we love each other! To spend special time with our family and friends! Next, we brainstormed ways to do this with words and actions. I plotted ideas as they were agreed upon:
Each of these ways to celebrate already fit into our day and were centered around showing love for the birthday friend, rather than the “things” that come with birthdays. One of the ideas that was shared was making a special book, now known as The Birthday Book.
A month before each child’s birthday, I sent home a blank book and letter (click here to view mine) to caregivers, asking them to create a book with their child. On or near the child’s birthday, families were invited to join our morning meeting to read the book to the class. Families also had the option to share a recording of the book, which would be shared with the class. Once the reading was over, friends had an opportunity to make connections and ask questions. Then, we sang happy birthday. Afterwards, birthday books were added to a special bin in our classroom library.
Excitement quickly grew around these books. Children were eager to create their own. Books in the birthday basket did not go unread for a single day of the school year. Friends huddled around them together, conversing about each other’s lives. Kids turned to them when they felt sad or wanted space. Photos in books became seeds for stories, informational, and procedural texts.
Children saw familiar and unfamiliar people, places, and things. They approached what was new with curiosity and an open mind. Birthday books became the most important own voices texts in our classroom. Every single child saw their friends enthralled in books that most authentically represented their lives.
I’m not suggesting that the birthday book will be the just-right celebration for every classroom. What made it right for us, is: the idea was constructed together, the focus was on learning more about and showing care for each student, and it incorporated our love for literacy. Though I know it will evolve year to year with each unique community, this is a tradition (for now) worth repeating.