Swim parties, fast-food parties, middle-class pizza parties, princess parties, pirate parties, magic parties, bubble parties, bouncy castle parties and even science parties; it seems as though a bowl of jelly and blancmange just doesn’t cut the mustard these days.
Children’s parties are big business and with the aid of social media (especially Pinterest), it seems that every Tom, Dick and Harry is going to judge you on how much you love your child based on the standard of the birthday party that you throw for them.
And it is not uncommon for more than one party to fall on the same weekend, or even the same day. In prime party season, children are rushed to the venue by frazzled parents, all hoping that they’ve arrived at the right party at the right venue with their child wearing the right garb, and bearing an appropriate present.
After the mountains of gifts have been opened, back at school it’s circle time and everyone is talking about what they’ve done that weekend. How wonderful for those who were invited...but not so great for those who didn’t make the cut or could not attend.
So, how do you handle the potential fall-out in the classroom?
1 Try to avoid circle time on Monday morning
While it’s pleasant to talk to children about their birthdays, do this in a general way and focus on the time they had with family. Sing Happy Birthday with the whole class, but save the “How was your party?” question for when other children are out of earshot.
If children do start discussing the party they went to, make sure you ask the children who did not attend what they did at the weekend as well and celebrate this.
2 Embrace the party scene
At school this year, our foundation-stage classes have decided to embrace the party scene by creating party role-play areas, which are proving very popular. While not all cultures celebrate birthdays, most still tend to have celebrations, so your children’s party can be for whatever they want it to be for. It doesn’t matter if they can’t afford the themed party or to have the best present in real life. Here, they just need to use their imagination.
3 Hold a class party
Class parties provide a great opportunity for the whole class to celebrate together and experience games such as musical statues or pass the parcel. Christmas parties are held in most schools, and the promise of a party can be linked to a reward for whole-class good behaviour. The children can then plan and lead the party themselves.
4 Put a stop to ‘party lists’
Children like to make lists of their friends who they plan to invite to a party, even if their birthday is months away. While it is important to encourage writing, these lists can break friendships. Encourage children to make lists for other purposes, such as stating their likes or dislikes or collecting information about the class for use in a maths session.
5 Give out invitations subtly
If possible, put children’s invitations in book bags for children to open once they are home. This spares the feelings of those not invited and also ensures that the invitations don’t get lost before the parent sees them. If a parent does start giving out invitations at the school gate, kindly offer to deal with this for them as you “know who all the children are”.
In reality, I think children enjoy the simple things. Spending time in the party role-play area led to reminiscing about fond memories from my own childhood birthdays. I recall a cake that my mum made – a wishing well adorned with Jelly Tots. In my memory, it looks amazing, which my mother insists it was; however, knowing her cooking skills, I imagine it could pop up on a blog detailing epic cake fails. But the important thing was that she had found the time to make it herself. Time, after all, is precious, and time well spent is what children will remember the most.
Alice Edgington is assistant headteacher and English co-ordinator at St Stephen’s Infant School, Canterbury @aliceedgington