Celebrating Birthdays, the Montessori Way

As a mother, I always find myself reliving the wonder of my children on their birthdays. It’s amazing to see how they’ve grown, how suddenly they are two or four years old, and can walk, hold their end in a conversation, and begin to take care of their own needs.

In our Montessori preschool classrooms, we make birthdays into very special occasions, which celebrate the child’s development, and at the same time teach some meaningful lessons to our student. Families are invited to share this special ceremony, and to contribute to it.

For the Montessori birthday celebration, our students gather in a circle, and the birthday boy or girl sits next to the teacher. In the middle of the circle, there’s a candle or another light source, representing the sun; some teachers may display the months of the year around the candle.

In front of the child there may be a Number Rod, of three units, if it’s the child’s third birthday, and the sandpaper numeral “3”. We also ask the child to bring with him a series of photos of himself at birth, and at ages one, two, and three (or four or five, depending on the birthday.)

After the teacher lights the candle, we ask the child to walk around the circle and share his baby photo with his friends. We talk about what happened when he was a baby, what he could do and couldn’t do. Then, we may sing the song “the earth goes around the sun”, as the birthday child walks slowly around the candle, carrying a small globe in his hands, symbolizing the passage of time during this first year in this world.

Now he’s one, and we share the one-year-old photo, and talk about what he was able to do as a one-year old. Often, the family contributes some anecdotes about this year: was there a new sibling? Did a pet join the family? Did the family move?

In such way, we contemplate and celebrate the child’s unique life experiences, and tie them to the passage of time, the movement of the earth around the sun throughout each year.

It’s an exciting time for the child, who sees himself celebrated by the two groups of people he’s closest to: his family, and his friends at school. And it’s a very moving experience for those families who have the opportunity to join us on their child’s special day: it so nicely captures the wonder we feel as our children grow, and is a special moment to reflect on how delightful it is to see them develop from helpless babies, into the unique, wonderful little people they become under our care.