Birthdays are deeply significant. They represent the passage of time, which is an important albeit abstract concept for children to grasp. Maria Montessori thought up a birthday ritual to help children understand that they are growing older with each passing year.
Many Montessori schools practice a variation of this ritual in their classrooms when children celebrate their birthdays, and it goes something like this:
A candle, representing the sun, is lit in the middle of the room. Labels with each month of the year are laid out in a circle radiating out from the sun. The children and teachers sit in a wide circle around the sun and months of the year, while the birthday child stands next to the month of his or her birth holding a globe to represent the Earth. The birthday child then walks around the sun one time for each year of his or her life. As he/she walks, the teacher talks about what the child was doing when he/she was that age. Parents usually write a sentence or two or send in pictures of the child. The teacher might hand the child one flower each time he goes by, to be placed in a vase; providing a visual representation of his new age. At the end the child may extinguish the candle and the class sings Happy Birthday.
This is not the usual birthday party celebration that our children might be accustomed to at home (with cake and balloons and Elsa & Ana performing a rendition of “Let It Go”) but as we are living in a time when ‘normal’ is variable, it could be the perfect opportunity to try something new out at home.
You could get your little one involved in drawing a representation of the sun (if you prefer not to use a candle or, indeed, as well as a candle) and a globe, too. It’s could be a nice idea to choose some pictures – perhaps the earliest picture you have of your child as well as the most recent one to emphasise the time passed. You could even get family members to share a favourite memory of the birthday boy/girl.
The celebration is simple but effective – and as a ritual it is memorable and often, quite moving.