Sugar is a double-edged sword of childhood. It brings so much pleasure to our little ones. Their sweet, angelic faces light up at the prospect of an ice cream cone or cupcake, and then the devil inside them emerges as they spiral downward from the bliss of a sugar high. The result is the tired, glazed look of a sugar coma. This look isn’t one that parents enjoy seeing, but at school, when our kids are trying their best to pay attention and learn, it’s a look that should never appear.
As the school year gets going, consider what your child is eating during the school day. Your school may already have a policy limiting the treats given to students, but if not, you may not be aware of the M&Ms given in one class, the Sweet Tarts rewarded in another, or the frequency of cupcakes and donuts provided for birthdays. The amount of sugar adds up quickly and can be a barrier to learning. Additionally, there are students who suffer from more than just the sugar highs; we should be mindful of the children who have dietary restrictions, such as food allergies and diabetes. Rather than filling our kids with sugar while they are trying to learn, here are a few ways schools, teachers, and parents can help reduce the number of sweet treats given to our kids.
1. Limit Birthday Celebrations to Once a Month
Ask your child’s teacher to set aside one day a month to celebrate those students who have a birthday that month. The class’s room parent can coordinate the monthly birthday bash, asking parents of the birthday students to help plan the party. Parents can discuss what treats will be provided and can organize activities to celebrate the birthdays. The teacher and parents can set student expectations of the celebration — remember bigger isn’t always better! A low-key party during lunch is absolutely acceptable for recognizing monthly birthdays.
2. Provide Extra Recess Time
If students have earned a reward or if it’s birthday time, why not add an extra ten minutes to recess? Kids may need to burn off some energy from the excitement of having worked hard to earn a prize, and the birthday girls and boys will love having extra recess time in their honor.
3. Make a Watermelon Birthday Cake with Candles
If you want to keep the feel of a birthday cake without all the refined sugar, make a watermelon cake, complete with candles! Here’s how: Cut a watermelon in half and place the flat side facing up. Decorate the top with candles, flowers, or action figures to create a fun and festive watermelon cake for your child. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time and can be as elaborate as you want.
4. Dress-Down Day or Jeans Day Pass
For children who must adhere to a strict dress code or wear a uniform, offering a birthday child the privilege of wearing jeans to school or not wearing her uniform for a day will bring plenty of smiles. Ask your school to create a decorative birthday pass for teachers to give students the day before the student’s birthday. Students can turn the pass into the school office and enjoy their birthdays in their favorite clothes. If your school already has a fairly laid back dress code, a birthday sash, super-hero style cape, or t-shirt are fun alternatives for the birthday boy or girl.
5. Kids’ Favorite: The Sticker
You can’t go wrong with stickers; elementary school kids will do almost anything for a cool sticker. Teachers can keep a box filled with popular characters or fun images to give as rewards. To help kids manage their sticker collections and keep track of their rewards, have students keep a sticker notebook in their desk. Set goals for good behavior or accomplishments. After students have accumulated a certain number of stickers, a larger reward can serve as a celebration, such as extra recess time or being the teacher’s assistant, which is described next.
6. Designate a Teacher’s Assistant for the Day
To recognize hard work, achievement, or a child’s birthday, allow the student to be the teacher’s assistant for the day. Ask the student to deliver notes to the school office, be at the head of the line, pick a book for the class to read, or simply do any errand that helps the teacher. Kids love to feel needed and appreciated. This is a great way to acknowledge a child, while giving them positive, yet helpful, recognition.
7. Design Poster Celebrations of the Birthday Girls and Boys
One way to celebrate birthdays without offering food to students is to create birthday posters for each student. On the day of the student’s birthday, display a poster in the classroom, which celebrates that student’s life. Parents and students can use photos, write memories, and share whatever keepsakes help honor the child’s life. Teachers can also help students practice their writing and friendship skills by having classmates write a kind sentence about the birthday boy or girl to be displayed with the poster.
8. Develop a Healthy Snacks Notebook for the School
To help families identify healthy options for treats and rewards, ask the school nurse or parents’ association to create a notebook filled with ideas. Let’s face it, parents are busy; grabbing donuts or cupcakes is an easy way to help your child celebrate at school. Creating a notebook for parents to use as a resource will cut down on the time spent trying to be creative and healthy. Parents can send in ideas to share with others and comment on what treats or activities were successful.
Teaching kids at an early age to make healthier choices and recognize that sweets are not needed to celebrate is a lesson that can start at school. The sugar devil shouldn’t make an appearance during the school day; let’s keep him at bay, and make our children’s school year focused on learning, friends, and healthy fun.
“Real Mom” Elizabeth Blanton is the lower school nurse at St. Catherine’s School. She lives with her husband, young son, and bulldog in the Southside of Richmond.