Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Giving our children agency on their birthdays

Last week I wrote about sharing touchstones for joy with our children through sharing our passions. Another moment when we try, like all parents, to create happy memories for our kids is on their birthdays. We mark these special days with our own family traditions and by giving the day over to the birthday person, that is to say letting them choose the food we eat, the places we go, the activities we share. 

Maya wearing her crown

Our traditions are simple; bunting, a birthday crown, opening the presents one by one in the morning after breakfast (if it's possible to wait that long!), taking a moment to each say something we’re grateful for about the birthday boy or girl. In general birthdays are spent ‘en famille’ because this is what the children prefer. If they want a party then it’s held on another day.

Origami horse birthday decorations

When I look around I can see that our way of doing things is very simple compared to some of the enormous birthday celebrations going on out there. But whether a celebration is big or small, simple or elaborate is not the most important thing to me. What really counts is giving the birthday child agency. 

Noah chooses Lego and apple cake

Children live each day in a world where many decisions, big or small, are out of their hands. What time they have to get up, what they get to eat, where they have to go, all these things are decided for them. This is true for home educators as for school educators. Okay, we don't usually get up so early! But we do have places we have to be and it is Frank and I who plan our menus. Of course we try to include our children in these decisions as far as possible, to offer options and discuss how we do things. We try to include foods they like to eat and to talk about our activities and what they mean for how our time is organised. But its not the same as being fully able to decide how things go down, even if for only one day.

Lotta picks the beach and a big sister pony ride
In fact I think that giving our children agency over the big and small decisions for one day is a very special gift. I know that my three all really enjoy telling us in the weeks before their birthdays what the menus will be and what they'd like to do. It makes their day extraordinary and it is such a small thing for us to do.

Maya on her first birthday

This year, as she turned eleven, Maya wanted to be just us on her birthday. She had a small party two days earlier with a couple of friends one of whom slept over. We spent a lot of time making things for her party bags and decorations for the house using our origami skills and this book (in French). Aside from horses we also made cranes and origami flowers to put in the party bags along with homemade earrings (I made tiny cranes using a quarter of a square of origami and added some beads sorry no photos). There was also some chocolate and sweets in little origami bags (I'll post a tutorial for these soon as I couldn't find anything in English). 

Origami flower gift
Origami decorations

On the actual day she opted for crème budvig for breakfast, goat’s cheese salad followed by pavlova for lunch and pizza for tea. She wanted to stay home and enjoy the nice weather. We played molki in the garden and Mr X, one of her favourite board games, twice. In the evening we got her little brother and sister to bed and watched Rogue One. It was a simple, quiet day.

Maya 11


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