Sometimes we just do things – and we don’t really think about the impact or the specialness, until somebody else brings it to the fore.
We have always celebrated children’s birthdays in our service, by sharing a cake (or something) with them – that they bring in from home. They usually sit with their room group to do this at afternoon tea time.We’ve always come together as a whole service for staff birthdays to sing and recognise. (When I say always – I am referring to since before I was at my service (so longer than 6 years).
While doing our reflections together late last year, we considered why we didn’t come together as a whole service for children also? Our shift has been to a very open program, that is multi aged. So children spend less and less time in age groupings for us. Why were we still scaling it back to celebrate birthdays? Were we really making this a special day for children?
We decided to try coming together for children also. All of us. It was rather spontaneous the first time we were doing it – and we looked around for something that would bring attention and let everyone know – and be fun.
We plucked the bells that were hanging on a hook on one of the verandahs. They were so perfect, that they immediately took on the new role, as the “Birthday Bells”. Coupled with the “Birthday Hat” which has also been around for many years…… a new tradition was born.
The birthday child circles the playground and the rooms wearing the Birthday Hat and ringing the Birthday Bells, gathering everyone together. We all head up to the yarning circle, where there is recognition of the special birthday we are coming together for, coupled with a choir to be reckoned with singing “Happy Birthday”! The cheers echo throughout the neighbourhood.
A parent approached me recently, quite anxious as to whether her little boy would get to do the birthday bells and hat, because he didn’t come to care on his actual birthday. She said it was all he talked about in relation to his birthday, and his excitement outweighed any requests for gifts. She was terribly concerned. And of course – it doesn’t have to be the actual day. The closest day they come to care is the best pick.
I do really love the creation of our new tradition. And the sense of togetherness it gives us all. But more so, the sense of belonging and specialness a child gets when we recognise their special day with them. They get to be the centre of the universe for just a while.
This custom and tradition has another spin for me too. A child with autism, who has been with us for a few years now – yesterday gave me the warmest glow inside. As he heard the bells ringing – he skipped his way up to the yarning circle. As I got closer to him, I heard the soft singing of Happy Birthday. And the little grin across his face showed me how much he was with us all in that moment.
Having been thrown the opportunity to reflect on this new little tradition, which is now only a few months young – I sit with a tear in my eye. Realising and understanding that we have seamlessly formed something not only very special for children – but something that will likely form one of their early childhood memories.
And that little grin creeps across my face, as I understand fully, that we got this one right.
It is the special times in a child’s life, that will become the memories that stay with them as an adult.
“We didn’t realise we were making memories. We thought we were just having fun.”