Pizza parties, ice cream socials and birthday cupcakes have become the norm in many schools, prompting some parents to complain of food-related events in their child’s classroom every week. But with the increase in food allergy and the dramatic rise in childhood obesity, it leaves us to wonder, why is food still the focus?
Prizes and festivities help foster social development, but there are several ways to teach children the power of earning or make their big day special without bringing the risk of allergens into a supposedly safe environment.
Allergic Living asked Nicole Smith, allergy children’s book author and founder of Allergic Child , for suggestions on fun ways to reward and celebrate without a take-out box. Smith says, “my experience is that there are different ways to reward and celebrate based upon age,” so she offered the following ideas grouped by education level:
Preschool & Elementary School
• Let the birthday child be in charge as line leader to the playground, teacher’s helper for the day, or with work in the office making decorations.
• Allow kids to earn a button for each good deed, cash in buttons for prizes (such as fun school supplies) at month’s end. (For younger kids, use chart paper with all students’ names and stickers beside each name for every good deed.)
• Play bingo or other party games, like musical chairs or minute to win it games.
• Let the class celebrate with physical activity via an extra recess.
• Gift the school library a child’s favorite book on his or her birthday.
• Celebrate a “star” of the week, and have the child decorate a bulletin board in class with things they like.
• Provide supplies for beading friendship bracelets or key chains.
• Hold a dance where everyone dresses up glamorously or the kids get to DJ their own music.
• Recognize birthday kids with kudos in the school newspaper.
• Choose a day for kids to wear their favorite team clothing.
• Put the birthday boy or girl in charge of making morning school announcements.
• To reward, offer opportunities for students to earn a pass to go to lunch early, extra credit, or a trophy, ribbon or certificate.
• Give the class white t-shirts and let them make their own designs with permanent markers. They can also write special messages on each other’s shirts to commemorate the occasion.
• Allow kids an innocent guilty pleasure, like wearing a hat at school or listening to music while working on assignments in class.
• Create fun projects where students can earn “no homework” or “not tardy” coupons.
• Provide extra points on the next quiz or test.
• On birthdays, give the honoree a free pass to Prom or Homecoming or best seating at a school play or sporting event.
• If possible, reward top students with a gift certificate to iTunes or Amazon.
• Have reserved parking spots in front of the school for birthdays or students of the month.
• Hold a trivia day for extra credit; encourage kids to work in teams.
For more ideas, see Allergic Living’s schools  section.
What progress is being made on food in the classroom? See our feature, Milk in the School, in the Spring 2014 issue  of Allergic Living magazine.