Honoring individuality: more than icing on the cake
by Friends School mom Jenefer Donovan
On the playground recently, a mom who is new to Friends School this year told me that her daughter’s birthday celebration was coming up and asked what to expect. At their last school they had to bring cupcakes and gluten-free, dairy free treats and she was relieved not to have to do that! But without sugary treats how were they going to celebrate, she wanted to know, surely she had to bring something…I thought back to my own daughter’s 5th grade birthday celebration and with it came flashes of her birthday celebrations over her years at Friends School – the same tradition carrying through the years but evolving as the kids themselves grow and shape it, passing the rock from one child to the next, offering a memory or an appreciation of the birthday child.
In the early years there is shyness, nervousness, giggling and repetition combined with genuine kindness, warmth, affection and respect as each child expresses their appreciation for their classmate. I thought of the first birthday ritual I participated in, when my son was in Kindergarten, just a few short weeks after starting at Friends School. It warmed my heart to hear all his little buddies saying such sweet, funny, kind words. I knew, hearing them, that we had landed in a safe place, that he was surrounded by warmth and friendship already. But when it came to his teacher’s turn, I was blown away at how well she already knew my son. She used words I would have used myself to describe him and I knew he was really being seen and cherished for who he is.
Year after year I have witnessed the spontaneous words of appreciation from their peers become increasingly articulate, thoughtful and heartfelt. I have watched as the child who simply passed the rock, uncomfortable speaking in front of the group, found his voice and confidently delivered kind and thoughtful words of celebration. These children really know each other, value each other, respect and care for one another. They support and nurture each others’ spirits, celebrate each others’ strengths and differences and they can express their feelings. These are skills for life, ones I wish I had been taught earlier!
All this passed through my head as I said ‘ummm…’ I was torn, I wanted to say all of this to my friend but I also wanted to let her discover and experience this magic for herself. ‘…Just bring yourself, you’ll get a slice of what makes Friends school so special’.