Thursday, February 21, 2013

Simple Trick: Birthdays in School

Noah recently celebrated his birthday in school. After doing this for a couple of years now, I feel I've become an expert - learning what NOT to do one year and correcting it the next.

Before I share the tips & tricks I've collected over the years, let me start with a disclaimer. These tips will work only if our celebration objectives are aligned. I choose to celebrate my kids birthdays in school (during recess or lunch) because I don't believe in yearly, grand (I'm sure you know how wedding-reception-grand children's parties are these days) birthday parties. I prefer a few grand ones (Yes, I'm one of those parents that threw 1st birthday parties for their babies who had no clue what was going on. And yes, we celebrated Isabella and Noah's 7th birthdays in a big way too - without knowing why on earth, 7th birthdays are supposedly special.) and the rest of the years, just simple celebrations that will make the birthday celebrant feel special in a gathering among friends (vs. mommy & daddy's friends at those grand parties). So my goal for these school birthday parties is a simple celebration, planned for & executed in the easiest way possible.

Assuming you feel the same way, here are my school birthday celebration simple tips & tricks:

1. Choose your theme. I let my kids choose the theme of their simple celebration so we always end up with character themes, against my liking. So even if I would have prefered non-character themes like those blue ballerinas or Noah's Ark animals for Noah, I ended up with blech-Barney and Ben10 themes in previous years. But hey, it's their birthday, not mine. Because school birthdays are so short (no time to decorate), there are only 2 things that make your theme a theme: the birthday cake and the loot. So order a cake and buy loot according to your theme. And take photos of the cake & loot so you have proof of a theme (and do it before d-day because it's easy to forget to take photos before you slice the cake and before you distribute the loot).

2. Decide on your cake plan. The cake is critical for the candle-blowing photo op. This year, because Noah's birthday fell on a Saturday (a non-school day), I ended up ordering 2 cakes: one for his actual birthday for his birthday dinner with the family and another for his school birthday celebration. If you decide to do the same & serve the cake to your child's classmates...
  • On d-day, along with the cake, don't forget to bring the birthday candle/s and lighter or box of matches.
  • Conduct the candle-blowing photo op before the kids eat their food. This will give you time to slice the cake while they are eating their, say, chicken & spaghetti.
  • ... which means, you need to bring a cake slicer to school (bring a serated knife too just in case your cake slicer needs help cutting through fondant cake icing).
  • Don't forget to bring disposable forks so the kids can eat their cake.
  • Instead of disposable plates, use disposable lunchboxes - the ones with lids that fold close. So if the kids can't finish their cake, they can bring home their leftovers.

But in 2 years, when Noah's birthday falls on a school day, my plan is to order 1 cake and several cake pops or cupcakes. Noah's classmates can eat the cake pops... And I will get to bring home the big cake for the candle-blowing photo op during dinner with the family. Plus, no need for the cake-slicing task anymore!

3. Decide on your loot bag plan. You can opt to buy themed toys and candies and stuff them in a bag (or your preferred container). Personally, I think stuffing bags & choosing candies & token toys just adds to the pre-work of this supposed easy-to-execute celebration. So I suggest to do away with candies - they might just lead to cavities and don't they get enough candy on Halloween?

I also suggest to pool your loot bag budget and pick one big (still within budget since kids are quite easy to please) toy rather than several really cheapo toys that end up breaking the next day or just turning into clutter later. Choose a fun toy so that you're sure everyone will like them.

For co-ed schools, either ensure the toy is gender-neutral or make sure you know how many boys & girls there are in your child's class before shopping for the toys so you get the right number of girl-toys vs. toys for boys.

4. Order food. (Easy-to-execute celebrations means no cooking required. Okay okay, I have no choice here. I can't cook. Remember from here?)
  • Visit (rather than merely call) the resto a few days before the celebration to place your order. Place your order and get a copy of the contract/order form. You can opt to have the food delivered to your child's school but you'll need to meet the delivery guy there. My brother did this and there were no problems. I'm paranoid so I opt for a pick-up arrangement. I prefer that the kitchen is right there, in case they get your order wrong or forget things like the spoons (which tends to happen with no-rice orders. They just give forks.). I even make sure to schedule pick-up 20 minutes earlier, in case they need the 20 minutes to fix something. (Haha, OC!) Make sure to check that the contract/order form has the correct date & time.
  • You can never go wrong with chicken & spaghetti. Every kid eats at least one of these two fastfood staples.
  • But do NOT get a chicken & spaghetti meal that comes with a drink. Transporting multiple drink-filled plastic cups is extremely difficult! Remember, those cardboard handles are only good for 4 cups. They don't make those for 15, 20 or 40 cups. Trying to carry this many cups to your child's classroom will inevitably result in some lids tearing and drinks spilling a little. Imagine the sticky mess! And even if the drinks don't spill, the plastic cups get those beads of condensation from the cold drink in it and lugging multiple wet cups will still be... ugh. So opt to order the food a la carte (vs. a meal) and serve tetra packs from the grocery for drinks. Their even, rectangular & stackable shape make even 50 tetra packs easy to lug around. Plus, they already come with a straw stuck to them so that's one less thing to distribute to each classmate on d-day.
  • Put the tetra packs in the fridge the night before d-day. A cooler is also an option.
  • On d-day, carry the tetra packs in a cooler (a styrofoam one with a shoulder strap will be ideal since it's light and you will be carrying a lot of things that day and will need your hands for other things).
  • For the cooling agent in your cooler, use those plastic cooling things or seal the ice in ziplock bags so the tetra packs don't get wet when the ice melts. Or bring a rag to wipe the floor if your dripping wet tetra packs make a puddle in the classroom.  
  • The chicken & spaghetti combo is not available a la carte. You can opt to order buckets of chicken and a la carte spaghetti. Then nicely request if they can pack it in the chicken & spaghetti meal box. McDonald's Tiendesitas agreed to do this for me this year. :) Make sure they note down this special packing instruction on your contract/order form.
  • One of Noah's classmates recently did away with the common chicken & spaghetti fare and went for a gigantic pizza. It seems it was a big hit with the kids so this is an option for me next year. Am thinking it will also lessen the things I need to distribute since the kids will likely want to get up and get their own slice from the giant pizza.
5. Think of your staffing plan. Visualize how many things will need to be lugged to the classroom from your car. This will help you decide how many helpers you need. Remember too that you can't bring a battalion of helpers because you not only need space in your car for all the stuff you need to bring, but classrooms aren't big enough to fit too many additional people.

To help, here is a list of things to bring:
  • Cooler containing tetra pack drinks (with straws) and cooling agent (ice in ziploc bag)
  • the themed cake (& cake pops/cupcakes if you choose this cake plan)
  • Cake slicer (& serrated knife)
  • Birthday candle/s
  • Lighter or box of matches
  • Cake boxes (the disposable lunchboxes with lids that fold close)
  • Disposable forks to eat the cake with
  • Table napkins to accompany the cake
  • Large ecobags to carry your food order
  • Loot (in lootbag or not)
  • Garbage bags so cleaning up is easy
  • your camera (make sure battery is fully-charged & memory card has enough space)

There are basically 3 main tasks during the actual celebration: [1] distribute -- first, the food, utensils, napkins & drink; second, the cake, forks & napkins; and third, the loot (but this one, your celebrant can do). [2] slice the cake. [3] take photos of the celebration.

The decision on how many people you need to do the distribute task will depend on the class size and if it is an option for kids to just line up to pick up their meal from you.

And there you have it: all the tips & tricks I've collected from 5 years of school birthdays. Hope this helps make planning & executing your little one's birthday in school simple & easy!

Photos are from annniegirl, polkadotshoppingbag & lushlee

Click here for previous posts from the Simple Trick series.

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