Hi- I am in need of your gift giving expertise! I have read you for years, and know you are way better at this kind of thing than I am! Here is the situation. I teach 3rd grade and one of my students was diagnosed with cancer in November. I have a third grade son myself. He knows my student and this hits very home to me! My class knows that H has cancer. ( That was not a fun lesson – what is cancer, how does it spread, what treatments are, etc.). So, H is getting chemo at the hospital on and off until February and will hopefully be able to come back to school in March or April, which is an eternity for a third grader! We have taken photos and emailed, and my class and the other third grade classes send cards once a week. For a big Christmas thing, I went to Build A Bear, got 25 of the hearts they stuff in the Bears, had my class sign them and make a wish for H, took photos, brought them back to Build a bear, took pictures of my son stuffing them in the bear, bought a Star Wars outfit ( that the boy likes). I took pictures of the bear around school, went to Target and had a photo book made. It was cute and he loved it. But, he is out for three more months. I want him to realize we are all thinking of him without just sending photos of us having fun ( too bad you aren’t here! We are having a party without you!) and without being too expensive. I am sure he got plenty of Christmas gifts from family and friends, so I’m looking for smaller, meaningful gifts that tell an 8 year old boy to stay strong. Any ideas? Thanks so much!
This is a hard question to even think about, because it is so sad. Henry is 8 and in the third grade, so you and I both have a very vivid mental picture here. Trying to picture what Henry might like in this situation is…a challenge, on several levels.
My opinion is that you have already had the best idea. The Build-a-Bear-with-25-hearts-signed-by-fellow-students gift was inspired, and better than anything I would have thought of. It’s sentimental and thoughtful and a great group-effort project, and resulted in a comfort item for him to hold onto. And you are already doing my next idea, which is to send regular photos and letters. You are so on this, I feel as if any suggestions I make will be things you have already thought of.
I think at this point I would focus on the letters. If you would like to do more, I think a very nice idea would be to find some way to symbolically include H in your events and celebrations, and send photos of THAT, plus a souvenir when applicable.
Here is the sort of thing I have in mind. I can picture having a photo of his face enlarged to life-sized, and putting it on a life-sized paper doll (class project: trace another student who is about his size, everyone help color it in), and then including that life-sized paper doll in various classroom events. And then I’d take photos of it with the other students, and send those photos to him with, say, a cookie from the party, and a holiday card signed by the class.
At Valentine’s Day, he could receive a class-made mailbox filled with valentines, plus a little plate of treats from the party, plus a photo of his paper doll standing by the mailbox receiving the valentines, surrounded by fellow students. After field trips, he could receive a set of photos of his paper doll on the field trip, and brochures from the location. I am not sure, since I can’t count this experience among my own, but I THINK if I were him that would make me feel included and remembered and “We are always thinking of you,” and not “We are having fun without you.”
Another idea is to talk to the child’s parent and ask what might be appreciated. Perhaps his parent will say, “Oh, he LOVES getting mail!,” and you can set up a mailbox for him in the classroom and incorporate it into a lesson plan about letter-writing, and/or have everyone contribute a dollar toward a subscription to a children’s magazine. Or perhaps his parent will say, “He is SO BORED!,” and your class can brainstorm ideas for things to send him: puzzles, books, workbooks. Or maybe he could use another pair of comfy pajamas, and everyone could chip in and help choose them.
I have a feeling that some or all of the parents of the other children in your classroom will be eager to participate. I do have experience with THIS role, unfortunately, and I remember wishing there was a way I could DO something. If a teacher had said, “If you can, please send $1 a month for little treats and gifts,” or “This year we are all doing all of our Secret Santa gifts for H,” or “Please help your child write a letter,” or “We will be sending valentines to H,” I would have been SO GLAD to have something practical to do.
I wrote to you a few months ago about a student in my third grade class who was out getting treatment for cancer. I really appreciated all of the suggestions, and thought it was time for an update. The good news is that H is now considered cancer free and has returned to school!
He was gone for four months. Using Skype to keep in touch was useful, but it was kind of hard to arrange times when he felt well and it was good timing for us. We did send lots of pictures and cards. Each week one of the third grade classrooms send cards. He sent in his Valentines and we sent his home to him. He also had a birthday and we sent a video of us singing and holding up signs. He sent us a video of his how to speech that we did in class. I liked the idea of the ” flat H” and if he had been gone longer I would have done that too.
He had a pretty low immune system when he came back and no hair but I warned the class about germs and stocked up on hand sanitizer. He wanted to just slide right back into the rhythm of the class, but that took a few weeks. What really helped was having the Child Life specialist from the hospital come in and give a presentation about cancer, chemo, MRI’s and ports. I think it really made H feel better – that everyone else finally had an idea of what he had gone through.
Now his hair is mostly grown in, he is caught up both academically and socially. He still attends a lot of special events for cancer survivors, but otherwise is a normal third grader. Thank you so much for your help!