Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article incorrectly implied that large pretzels served at a birthday party at the Montessori School of McLean were baked by a student's mother. They were bought at the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe in Arlington.
A Birthday Celebration Without the Sweets

Monday, May 19, 2008

When kids at Archisha Singh's school in Loudoun County have a birthday, there are no parents sweeping in with towers of cupcakes dripping with frosting. Little River Elementary is one of a growing number of treat-free schools.

Some school districts, concerned about childhood obesity, food allergies and federal nutrition guidelines, have banned cupcakes altogether.

So what's a kid to do?

Lots, it turns out.

Stickers Instead of Sweets

At Little River, birthday kids can donate a book, which Principal Joyce Hardcastle will read to their class. She also hands out birthday certificates, badges and special pencils, and makes sure the kids' names are read on the school's morning news.

Parents can send in stickers, pencils and other non-food favors for the class. Kids who donate jump-ropes and other sports gear get their names on a certificate that's displayed at school. Archisha's second-grade teacher lets birthday kids bring in a CD of their favorite music to play during downtime.

Archisha does miss cupcakes, especially the vanilla ones with sprinkles that her mother made for her preschool class. But the Little River way is fun, too.

"I like both ways," she said.

Hardcastle says it's important that the school is not only teaching, but is modeling healthy choices for kids: "There is life after cupcakes, and I think, for the most part, it is a better life. The truth is, if you eat a treat, then it's gone in two seconds. But a book lasts a lifetime. The sports equipment lasts, and kids can use it day after day after day."

Even More Options

KidsPost asked readers how their schools celebrate birthdays now that many have banned cupcakes.

Thomas Jones, 8, of Gainesville, said kids at Buckland Mills donate books to the library and receive a birthday card. Alexa Regnier, 9, of Fairfax, said her teacher gives American Collector postage stamps for special occasions. Claire Hinders, 7, of Herndon, wrote that for one of her birthdays "my mom got a bunch of different-colored Post-it notepads, and I stuck birthday stickers on each one" for classmates.

"Instead of bringing sweets and junk food, at our school we bring in hats and assorted party favors," wrote Matthew Gherman, 12, of Poolesville.

Others said they bring in craft projects -- with the permission of the teacher.

Alicia Levin, a teacher at Washington Hebrew Early Childhood Center in Potomac, used to watch in dismay as sugary birthday treats sent students bouncing off the walls. On a trip to Israel last year, she discovered a new idea: the Birthday Chair.

"We decorate a chair with flowers, and the child gets to sit in it all day. We make a crown out of paper flowers, and we sing 'Happy Birthday' to them in Hebrew, English and Spanish," she said. "A lot of parents, instead of sending in treats, have gotten very creative. One sent in little bubbles, another sent in crayons with a little coloring book. . . . The kids just love it."

Some schools allow healthy treats such as carrots, celery, fruit cups with vanilla yogurt, and bagels with cream cheese.

Diane Sartori searched online for ideas about what to take to her daughter's kindergarten class at St. Leo the Great Catholic School in Fairfax. She came up with bamboo skewers of fresh fruit that she calls Magic Wands. She cut the fruit with cookie cutters to vary the shapes. Since the kids had been studying the color wheel, she lined up the pieces of watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple and other fruits to match it.

Another way to celebrate a birthday is by creating a new tradition at school. Maybe your teacher would allow the birthday girl or boy to be line leader for the day or help teach the class.

Walk, Don't Eat

When kids at the Montessori School of McLean have a birthday, they do a Walk Around the Sun, a Montessori tradition.

The teacher places a lit candle on the floor. In a circle around the candle she lays strips of paper labeled with the months of the year and the seasons.

When Daniel Meakem celebrated his birthday in February, he held a globe and stood between the winter solstice and spring equinox markings -- where his birthday falls. Then he walked around the circle seven times, once for each year of his life, stopping each time on his birth date to tell "something that we achieved or learned during that year of our lives, or something special that we did, like learned how to walk, talk, became a big brother or first time on an airplane," he told KidsPost. "My favorite part is when you get to make a wish and blow out the candle."

Daniel's school allows kids to bring in birthday treats -- even cupcakes. But for his special day, Daniel asked his mom to make huge German pretzels. "My class loved it!" he said.

So when twins Davis and Conner Elder turned 8 last week, the class again celebrated with giant pretzels.

-- Brigid Schulte

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