On the other side are parents of kids with Summer Birthdays who only wish they could be acknowledged with cupcakes at school. They can't even rustle up a decent party because all their friends have scattered for the holiday. And of course, like many other parents, most years we can't afford a big party with the whole class for every one of our children so we have to be selective or get creative.
Fortunately, getting creative is something we excel at. Following is a list of alternatives to treats and alternatives to big parties at a variety of different price levels. Always check with your child's teacher first to be sure your alternative treats will be welcomed. And always check with your child that they're down with this new plan and not really counting on something else. Getting them in on the plan is even better. When they're excited about the plan, the exact date of their Birthday becomes less important. A Summer Birthday treat can be planned near the opposite day of the year, or for when there's a bigger gap between other birthdays.
Instead of Cupcakes:
While school shopping, pick up 26 (k-3rd grades) 36 (4th and up) packs of crayola crayons (50c on sale), packs of crayola fat or skinny markers or colored pencils ($1 on sale). As their Birthday approaches, have your child draw 4-8 coloring pages of their favorite characters or things. Scan and clean up in the computer if desired, then take to your local copy center to duplicate a class set.
If they're older and crafty, get 36 extra pencils or pens in the back to school sales and they can make pencil toppers or flower pens for their class. They can bring them in a big bouquet. I've observed, the joy my kids get from making and giving something special to their class is more enduring than their joy at receiving presents. I think they realize it too, now. Studies indicate that new experiences cause more joy than new things. Creating and giving are experiences.
If you're not crafty...
For k-1 especially, get helium filled balloons for the whole class. Our local dollar store has Mylar ones that will last a little longer than regular latex, and come in fun shapes.
Check out the dollar store, or the dollar section of your favorite store for things like regular or Chinese jump ropes, hula hoops, foam footballs, or other sports equipment they can open and use at school for a PE unit and then take home. If possible, volunteer to come in and help teach the PE unit.
Buy an assortment of higher quality playground balls or other equipment. Wrap it and let your child open it for the class. In most schools each teacher usually supplies the playground equipment for their own class, so nice new equipment will be welcome. Even a single nice basketball, soccer ball, or sturdy playground ball will be appreciated.
In my experience, a large fresh supply of sidewalk chalk for the class is always welcome. Add a book of ideas like "Chalk the Block".
Large spill proof bubble buckets that have 3 wands or an electric bubble maker are wonderful for younger classes. For an older class get a book on crazy bubble science and all the supplies for the whole class to do it.
Art supplies, stickers, new glue sticks decorated with washi tape, colored staples, anything the whole class will enjoy. Especially if the Birthday is later in the year when the newness has worn off the classroom and something has started to wear out or run out. You can check with the teacher to see what that is. Or, in the beginning of the year buy each child their own pair of scissors and tie them each with a yard of ribbon in a loop to create a lanyard. This keeps them from getting lost on the table or desk or picked up by someone else. Most people expect the teacher to have a classroom set so they haven't bought their own, but the classroom set may be in pretty poor condition.
If their Birthday falls near the school book fair, give each child in the class a gift certificate. Find out who is in charge of the book fair at least a week before it begins to get the gift certificates made ahead of time. Be nice to them. They volunteered for a big job. There are usually at least a few books for $1, a good number for $1.99, and about half under $5. If you forgot to connect ahead of time, go find out which erasers/book marks/pens or other nick knacks by the register are making all the kids go wild and buy enough for the class. There are usually items ranging from 50c to $5. The teacher can distribute them at their convenience. Your purchase will also support more books for the school.
If the book fair is too rich for your blood, or nowhere near your child's birthday, you can plan further ahead and start picking up cool children's books in new condition from thrift stores for a quarter. There are always an abundance of books. Wrap a big open box inside and out to put them in and bring them on a pre-arranged day for each child to choose one.
For $15 you can buy the class a subscription to "National Geographic". Other cool educational magazines have surprisingly low subscription prices. Once we subscribed to "National Geographic" we got even lower subscription offers for many others (they clearly sell their mailing list, but my daughter is enjoying all the junk mail that comes in her name). Try "Smithsonian", "Discover", "Popular Science", "Air & Space", "Wired", "Maker". "Time for Kids" has a classroom set deal with curriculum support for social studies. "Highlights" is still the premier magazine for kids, and now they have a magazine of just puzzles. It is a little pricier but has no ads. "NatGeo for Kids" was mostly Disney ads so my kids weren't interested. With a subscription, every month the class gets a treat in honor of your child's Birthday. It's a great option for a child with a Summer Birthday.
Does your child have a favorite toy that you can get a class set of? One of mine loves plastic dinosaurs and other animals but isn't allowed to bring her own to school. Other toys like battle tops have been banned because there's not enough for the whole class to play. One year I picked up a set of Dinos the class can use during free choice time. Another year I bought a class Twister because it's my other daughter's favorite game.
Instead of a Big Party:
Buy a gross of balloons for tying animals, a how to book, and then come in to teach them how to do it. This is a great activity for a younger class that has buddies from an older class. The older kids will pick it up pretty fast and can help the younger ones. I did this with a combined k/1/2 and they all figured it out within an hour. They were so proud of their new skill.
Plan and provide for any other kind of guest project that happens to be your specialty. Model rocketry is an awesome one for older kids and Estes has classroom packs available for teachers. Look for classroom sets of whatever you're into. Those resources may be more affordable than you expect.
Plan something healthy to eat that you can bring in and prepare with the kids. Teachers usually love to put a new face in front of the kids when it is helpful to their course of study, and can help you come up with something appropriate to their age and current curriculum. Preparing a recipe from the time and place in history that they're studying, for example. Or something that features a seasonal fruit or vegetable growing in your region or school garden. Some recipes even demonstrate cool chemical reactions. Big Bonus: the kids are more likely to try and like a healthy new food if they've made it themselves.
Fund a field trip. This may sound crazy expensive as a party alternative, but hear me out. Five years ago I had a Planetarium party for my oldest daughter. It was a Friday evening. We had to arrange transportation for all the kids. Quite a few couldn't make it because of the date, but the majority did. In addition to admission there were invitations, decorations, favors, I planned to have a cake and drinks and a movie at home after. It cost me well over $100. Last year I funded a field trip to the same Planetarium for my third daughter's Birthday. It was walking distance from the school. The whole class was present and celebrated her Birthday with many a "Thank You M". This thrilled her. The Planetarium had a special lower rate for schools. No extra food/plans were needed. In the end it cost $50 even. Ask your child's teacher what's close to the school and what field trips they'd like to try. Her teacher didn't know about the Planetarium before I brought it up, but loved it and plans to take her class next year. Check out what local museums and art centers have available. Even a skating rink or bowling alley can be a good field trip that meets educational guidelines for PE. When you do this you make sure even the poorest and most unpopular children in the class get to have fun, and participate in something they might not otherwise get to do. If you've got the funds for a big party but are liking the simplicity and inclusiveness of this idea, might I suggest you see if you can fund a week of swimming lessons instead? It's an important part of every child's education that's lacking in most school districts. And the kids will definitely think of it as a BIG treat. If there's a public pool within walking distance it should be something that can be arranged. It may be more reasonable to go in with another parent on a pricier trip or a trip that requires a bus, but the class can celebrate two kids together. If they're buddies with Birthdays far apart, they might be excited to party together.
If your child's Birthday falls on or near a regularly celebrated holiday, take charge of the class party and they can share it. A Pinterest perfect Birthday party is not what's important. Presents aren't even that important. Acknowledgment is really the key. Everyone should have their love tank filled to the brim once a year. They should know that their friends are glad they were born. When the teacher says, "Jane's Birthday is the day after St. Patrick's Day so her mom/dad is going to plan a class party for us for the holiday." Jane still gets the credit for giving something even better than cupcakes to her class. The kids will understand that this is a special treat from Jane and fill her love tank with appreciation. And you won't have to clean your house, manage invitations and RSVPs, or deal with early drop offs or late pick ups.
Disclaimer: None of these ideas are a substitute for celebrating your child's special day outside of school as a family. We still do that every time. They are only intended as an alternative to big-invite the whole class over-parties and/or bringing junk food to school.
All of these ideas have sprung from being invited by teachers to try something different or seeing other parents do something that fit with the things their family enjoyed. I will never forget the fitness instructor mom who brought in a class set of nice hula hoops and tape and stickers to decorate them. She taught the kids to hula hoop over the next 4 weeks and the kids brought them home when they were done with the PE unit. Her daughter was glowing as she showed her friends how to put fun tape on a hula hoop. If you can paint faces, write poetry, share something you enjoy or just share a box of good books, you have something to offer that can enrich your child's classroom and boost their self-esteem and social status. What a great substitute for cupcakes!
If you have other ideas I'd love to hear them. We can all use help on this front.