Less than one week until school begins! I spent part of my morning labeling all of Grady’s school supplies, realized we bought the wrong kind of Crayola markers (The box didn’t contain a black, yellow, or blue?! Why?), bought two new boxes, and packed his bag for his first day of school. While I could feel the excitement for his upcoming year building inside, I also started to feel the anxiety creep in:
- What will this new school year bring?
- Will he have a reaction this year?
- How can I help his new teacher? Will she feel overwhelmed?
- Will Grady’s new classmates be able to understand his food allergies?
Over the past few weeks I have been talking with other allergy moms who have kids starting Kindergarten and teachers who will have allergy kids in their rooms for the first time. Because I have had so many inquiries, I thought I’d share some of the advice I gave with the hopes that you’ll find something helpful! If you have any tips or tricks yourself, send them my way!
Food Allergy Parents:
- Communicate: No one knows your child’s food allergies better than you. No one. I’ve discovered through this journey, that just when you become comfortable with where your child is at, it changes: a new teacher, new classmates, new experiences…If you don’t tell others about your child’s food allergies, no one will ever understand. So, share what you know. Tell others about life with food allergies, about the difficulties faced, and the seriousness of them. By sharing, not only are others more aware, but they’re more likely to help when you need it! Make sure you meet with your child’s teacher before the school year begins and keep in touch throughout the year.
- Be a resource: While your child will spend the majority of their time at school with their teacher and classmates, you still play a vital role in their school day. Truth: your child’s teacher cannot manage your child’s food allergy all on their own. For anyone who does not live in the food allergy world, managing food allergies can be difficult. Whenever you can, be available to answer questions, offer snack ideas for the next party, help locate resources/supplies that are safe for your child, etc.
- Involve your food-allergic child: Now that Grady is older and starting to comprehend his own allergies, we have increased our conversations about managing his food allergies. We discuss the importance of hand washing, not sharing food, what he should do when he feels sick, how to administer an EpiPen, why he has a medical bracelet, and what his body might do if he ingests an allergen. (He hasn’t had a reaction for a while.) The best thing we can do for our food-allergic kids is to build their own confidence around managing their food allergies.
Classroom Tips and Tricks:
- Pencils: Buy your child a lead pencil with a different coloured exterior than the classic yellow Ticonderoga pencils. Grady’s kindergarten teacher gave us this idea last year and we love it. The different colour makes it easy for Grady to identify which pencil is his so he doesn’t use another student’s pencil. In a classroom where allergens are present, and kids often chew on their pencils or put them in their mouths, having a separate colour to identify Grady’s pencil is helpful.
- Snack time: Another idea I cannot take credit for, but a routine we will be continuing, is having a placemat at school for Grady to use during snack time. This ensures he has a clean surface to eat at, and easily marks his snack area so other children’s food doesn’t come into contact with his.
- Lunch time: We are lucky enough to live close enough to the school that Grady can come home for lunch every day. Last year, between Derek, grandparents, and myself we were able to make it work. When Grady is older, we hope that he will be able to stay for lunch with his friends! For now, it is safer for him to come home.
- Water bottles: Water fountains are not safe for food-allergic kids. Frankly, I also think they’re gross; Especially in the elementary school area where kids haven’t mastered the art of drinking midstream. I remember, as a grade 1 student, putting my mouth directly on the water fountain spout…come on…I know you did too. So, to prevent the transfer of allergens, and anything else living on the water fountain, Grady takes a water bottle with him…
- Name tag on his chair: Last year, Grady’s teacher placed a name tag on his chair so other students wouldn’t use it, and he always knew which seat was his. This was especially important as both snack and lunch were eaten in the classroom.
- Hand washing: One routine we set up last year was consistent hand washing. At Grady’s intake meeting, we established a routine that Grady would wash his hands after each recess, before snack, and any other times he re-entered the classroom whether it be from music class or gym. This routine is important because it teaches Grady the importance of ensuring his hands are clean so he doesn’t ingest any allergens. This is a routine he has become very good at.
- Educate their classmates: Educating others and building an understanding about food allergies is essential. The more others know about food allergies, the more they are willing to support and help your child. At the beginning of each school year, I send my collection of food allergy picture books with Grady for his teacher to read to the kids. We also tell Grady to talk to others about his allergies to help build an understanding among his peers.
- Think F.A.S.T.: I share this poster from Food Allergy Canada with Grady’s teachers. It is an excellent resource that is easy to hang on the wall in the classroom.
I know that was a lot to read, and if you made it this far, I hope you found at least one thing that was helpful. From one allergy mom to another, I hope that this school year is a safe and happy one!