Ruben’s birthday party

Ruben was turning nine and he was very excited. The boy had been learning when his special day would appear on the monthly calendar.

As October rolled around, three birthday cakes were placed on the calendar.

Every day, the children would count down the number of days to the three birthdays. Ruben’s seemed to be so far away as it was the last day of the month.

Yet, the boy loved to hear his name called out each morning about his upcoming special day. Plus, it helped him understand what was about to happen.

Finally the magic day arrived.

The teacher had spoken to his parents about what they might want to do to for Ruben’s birthday. She knew that some parents preferred celebrating birthdays in their own homes with their friends and family. Others liked to do something at school.

The teacher knew that most of Ruben’s friends were in Room 623. That was the same way it was for most general education students too.

However, unlike many children in the general education program, most of the teacher’s students had no friends outside the classroom.

Ruben’s family decided to have a big celebration in Room 623. They sent Batman cupcakes with lots of pepperoni pizzas.

The teacher invited Ruben’s older brother to come and be a part of the celebration.

Ruben beamed when the pizzas arrived in the room. As the children sang to him happy birthday, the boy’s face lit up with a huge priceless smile. Ruben shouted out to the children, “Today is my day! It’s my birthday!”

Several years before Ruben came into the class, the teacher remembered when parties were not encouraged in elementary school. A major concern in Texas was and still is the level of obesity in its population. As a response, the new principal decided not to allow birthday parties for any of the children in her elementary school. That concerned the teacher.

Many of the students only had a birthday party in Room 623 and nowhere else. Plus, the classroom was the place where they learned critical social skills that could be applied to life’s circumstances. For example, the children learned how to handle the birthday child receiving presents while they watched. That was a major challenge for many of the children.

Birthday parties were a great way to encourage good behavior. Those children that misbehaved after ample warning didn’t get to participate in the party. They lost out on cupcakes and sometimes a slice of pizza. Instead, they would get the cupcake at a later date when they earned it through good behavior.

The teacher found that social skills such as birthday parties and trying a variety of different foods during special events should be included in each of the children’s individual education plans. The teacher often had large family gatherings before winter and spring breaks. Those parties even included a visit from Santa Clause and the Easter Rabbit. Different kinds of parties in the classroom helped the children prepare for their own special events at home. Learning disappointment in not having a present or not liking a favorite food of another child were a part of life’s lessons.

The nice thing about children’s birthdays were that they ended up being scattered throughout the entire year. That helped the children pay more attention to the special days on the calendar. In Ruben’s case, he was surprised when some of the other students gave him presents. The older children enjoyed seeing another child open their gift. The younger ones typically struggled not to grab a gift that was not theirs. In fact, at Ruben’s party an older boy stopped one of the first graders from grabbing Ruben’s present.

That brought a big smile not only to Ruben’s face but the teacher, too.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at