Food-free Reward and Celebration Ideas for School

in Managing Allergies, Parenting & School
166623172Photo: Getty

Pizza parties, ice cream socials and birthday cupcakes are still common events in many school classrooms. 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 blogger, 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 Rewards

  • 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 board in class with things they like.

Middle School Celebrations

  • 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.
  • 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.

High School Rewards

  • 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 Amazon or another popular site.
  • 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 school ideas and tools, see:
– Allergic Living’s Parenting and Schools section.
– Gina Clowes’ article: Exclude the Treats, Not the Child