Food allergies have become an every year, every class occurance in Pre-K over the past few years. We have all seen children with peanut or milk allergies, maybe a latex allergy here or there, but I would like to tell you about a little girl in my class who is anaphalactically allergic to 5 of the big 8! My Pre-K team and I have been able to keep her safe, with her parents permission I am sharing her story with you in hopes that you don't give up on Pre-K for your child because of food allergies. Any school worth attending will do everything necessary to accomodate your child no matter how severe the allergies are.
My student is a 4 year old sweet, loving and intelligent child. She makes me laugh everyday and I can't imagine my class without her. She is deathly allergic to: milk, eggs, gluten, latex, all nuts and wheat. I know you are asking yourself what does this little girl eat? I will get to that, but first let me explain the safeguards my team and I put into place before school started. To give you some background I myself have a latex allergy so the classroom was already virtually latex free, that was the one we had to worry about the least starting off the year.
We started with a lengthy parent/teacher conference where pictures of her reactions were given, food lists were prepared and testing from the Doctors were studied. I believe my open communication with the parents has played a huge part in the success we are having with this child. Also my allergy and my confidence gave the parents some anxiety relief before school started.
1. Our cubbies are located inside the classroom which would allow allergens from home to come into the classroom everyday, so instead I line the hallway outside of my room with Ikea buckets (1.99 each) and each of them has a nametag. On one side of my hallway shelf is the one bucket that belongs to the little girl and on the other side are the other 13 buckets. Apon arrival the students place everything from home in these buckets and nothing enters the classroom.
2. From there each child wipes their face and hands with a baby wipe. Not only has this helped with allergens but my students have not been sick nearly as much as students in other classrooms.
3. At first I placed her at a table with one other child as a precaution not knowing how she would react to the classroom environment, every morning I wiped down this table and her chair just in case anyone had touched it.
4. No food signs and allergy signs were placed at the door. No one is allowed to enter our classroom except my class and I. This ensures no unwanted allergens are in the room. I keep my lunch on the shelf in the hall and I decided to give up cream in my tea, this was an extra precaution that I am not sure was necessary, however this is another persons child and I didn't want to take any chances.
5. Once she was accustomed to the environment and not having any reactions I moved her to a regular table just like everyone else, she was thrilled! (with the parents permission of course)
6.The school provides a snack that should be safe for her such as fruit or vegetables for the entire class. She brings her own snack to avoid any issues with cross contamination. We wash hands and clean tables immediatly after snack.
7. In the lunchroom she sits at a desk and chair that is cleaned by a lunchroom teammate or her Mother before we enter the lunchroom. This desk is pushed up to the end of our table so that she can still feel like she is part of the group. I wash my hands and open her food before touching any allergens.
8. We immediatly wash hands after lunch and her Mother graciously provides safe cupcakes and snacks for the class on special occasions, and they taste great! I know they are probably very expensive for her to make but there is no cost on the safety of a child.
9. I carry an epipen and have been through epipen training as well as carrying benadryl. At the fisrt sign of a reaction I administer benadryl, so far only 2 times the whole year, and we do not truly know if they were reactions or if she just got a blotch on her skin from running around etc. With all of her allergies it is not a matter of what causes it but when it will occur. We may never know what sets off her allergies since she is allergic to so many things. One day her grandmother accidentally poured regular milk into her cereal. She took one very small bite and she immediatly had a reaction the required an epipen to control. Her Mother has kept excellent photo records of what her reactions look like and when I saw those pictures I swore I would do everything I could to keep her safe.
10. It took lots of calling around and research but I was able to ensure that some toys we had were indeed latex free. The Mom was able to make us safe playdough, provide safe sensory bucket foods (organic popcorn kernels, dried peas, a certain rice and certain noodles.) and we have exchanged cell phone numbers for quick questions and emergencies.
The first day of school I had a lesson on food allergies and explained to the children all about our friend who has these allergies. I posted pictures of the foods that she is allergic to with a red cross out sign. The children rallied around her and wanted to protect her, I even had a few children ask their parents to only pack them safe food for lunch so that they could sit by her. If only we loved like children!
None of these accomodations affect the other childrens learning or cause issues in the classroom. It is all about the attitude of the school and teacher. I had people say, "oh she won't last a month, she will have too many reactions and they will pull her out"
Well, we have proved them wrong! The parent teacher relationship has made all of the difference in keeping her safe, constant communication is the key. Never assuming anything is safe without calling a manufacturer also helps. She is happy, healthy and loves coming to school, she knows I love her and will keep her safe.
It is my hope that this post gives teachers ways to help children with allergies and parents hope that there are teachers out there that care enough about children to teach them no matter what they have to do, a little extra work is outweighed by the love the children give and the appreciation of the parents.
Till next time,