How to Celebrate ‘Classroom’ Birthdays Amid Distance Learning

With an early October birthday, my son is one of the oldest kids in his (distance learning) 5th-grade classroom. It was for this reason that his teacher was unprepared when I sent a frantic email two days before the big day questioning what the protocol was now that the usual cupcake and chocolate milk delivery was an impossibility.

She, like me, had no idea how to proceed. She’d never experienced celebrating birthdays in a virtual classroom either.

At the start of the pandemic, I’d watch teary-eyed while countless social media videos played in my timeline featuring heartwarming birthday motorcades rolling through neighborhoods with signs and streamers. A viable option, I thought, until I remembered that our family isn’t one to mingle with the families in our neighborhood. Additionally, we live an entire continent away from the kids’ cousins and grandparents. Oh, and my career keeps me busy so I’m unlikely to mingle with the other kids’ parents or even have their contact information.

So, I did what any mom on the verge of a nervous breakdown would do, I turned to Google, I scoured Pinterest, and I meandered aimlessly through Party City for more than an hour to come up with something viable to make my soon-to-be 11-year-old feel special and celebrated on his big day. The day went off without a hitch and my little guy had a great time, so I thought I’d share some of my ideas in the hope that other frazzled mommas out there will find this information useful and also know that they’re not alone.

Please note that you’ll have to have an incredibly accommodating and sweet teacher to get them to agree to all (or even one) of these activities. Be upfront and communicative with them and let it be a discussion about what is best for their teaching schedule and your child.

Selfie Wall

Originally, I had thought of placing a bundle of helium-filled balloons in the kids’ playroom where my son does his distance learning until I realized this would not only make him want to play with them throughout the school day, but it also would summon his little sister who would distract his classmates or run off with her pilfered prize. I ultimately decided to set up a selfie wall instead. I used miniature silver balloon letters stuck to the wall with double-sided tape spelling out “Happy BDay Landon.” It was the backdrop of all his lessons that day and it stayed up all weekend so he could take selfies with his cake, presents, and the rest of the family.

Dance Party

My kiddo loves to listen to music and his favorite song is a total jam, so we asked his teacher if, during a break, she’d be willing to play the song for the class. Anyone who felt so inclined was invited to get up, get their wiggles out, and display their best dance moves. In my son’s case, 95 percent of the class participated, even the teacher got in on the action. For this option, you’ll need a teacher who is pretty tech-savvy and you’ll want to make sure they have the song ahead of time so they can have it queued up.

Joke Time

Some kids don’t like a lot of fuss made over them and they’re content just to have the platform to speak to the class unrestricted — kids love a captive audience. After all, most days the only time students address the class is when the teacher calls on them to answer a math problem or read the next paragraph from a text. My little guy loves the whole Jurassic Park franchise so he elected to tell a few on-brand jokes with punchlines like “a dyno might” and “Doyouthinkhesaurus.” My favorite was watching him tell the following joke while doing his best Jeff Goldblum impression: “I never thought they would make another Jurassic Park movie… But sequels, uh, find a way.”

Shall We Play a Game?

Younger classes will get a kick out of this turn-taking game if the teacher is up for teaching it and refereeing. Using the meeting’s full grid of students and starting with the top left student, each student, in tern, unmutes their microphone, sings a word from Happy Birthday in succession until the whole song is complete. Kid one says, “Happy,” kid two says, “birthday,” kid three says “to,” and so on. Bonus points if the class does this for more than one round and gets faster each time. This is best done as a morning warm-up activity.

Special Delivery 

We, unfortunately, live outside the current delivery radius for Tacoma-based Oh Happy Day Party Shop, but we did a facsimile by leaving a box of balloons and happiness on the porch for the birthday boy to find during his hour-long lunch break. Just when he thought the celebration was over, too. If you live in Tacoma or Fircrest, you can get the real thing delivered for $20. More information here.

The Clothes Make the Birthday Kid

If you’ve got a few weeks until the big day, check out sites like Etsy where you can have a special birthday shirt made that shows off your kid’s name, age, and maybe even their favorite Disney character. In a pinch, check out your local party supply store for fun hats, crowns, ribbons, or other wearable items that can be worn during the morning routine to make them stand out. My guy donned a pair of Jurassic Park-themed sweatbands on his wrists and it made him look super cool like his hero, Owen, of the newer Jurassic World sequel trilogy.

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is an assistant editor at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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