Friday, July 24, 2009

Thoughts on Food Allergy Article in April/May 2009 TYC

As you know, food allergies and how we, as professional educators, deal with them are important to me.  Recently, Teaching Young Children reran an article that was originally published in the March 2004 issue of Young Children, published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).  Titled “That Food Makes Me Sick” Managing Food Intolerances In Early Childhood Settings it was an overview of food allergy issues for teachers.  I am hoping the link to it works so you can read it for yourself.  Normally articles in those two magazines require NAEYC membership, but I think it’s now available to the public.

Of course I think that any positive coverage of food allergies is important and I’m pleased that this article has appeared twice.  It can be very hard on a teacher to find out one of the students has a food allergy, particularly if it means that anticipated activities can’t be done the same way as they always have been.  Having a starting point is great.

I do have one peeve with the article, and I only share it because it’s important for educators to be aware of.  On page 45 there is a comment about having food allergic children wear plastic gloves for activities that include ingredients that might harm them.  While I applaud the thinking (keeping a kid safe and letting him/her participate) behind the recommendation, it bugs me for two reasons:

1. When you single a child out, it hurts.  And I’ve NEVER come across a recipe that couldn’t be altered or replaced to be safe.  You might have to shift gears a little and try a new recipe, but you can keep the learning intact without being so rigid.  What are you teaching?  How to make peanut butter sandwiches?  Or how to make sandwiches with spreads and knives and then cutting them into fractions?  Think about it.  Plus, what’s the point in participation if the child can’t enjoy the fruit of his or her labors?  That would irk most adults and it does for kids as well.  You’re just delaying the exclusion to the consumption part of the activity.

2. Have you ever watched a child wearing plastic gloves be able to DO anything effectively?  These kids are still mastering fine motor skills.  Adding an extra layer makes it that much harder.  Heck, I have trouble changing diapers with gloves on and I do it every day.  Why should I expect a young child to work with gloves on?  Plus, wearing gloves limits tactile sensations and may be difficult for children with sensory issues.

I do think there are times when wearing gloves is appropriate.  For example, if cleaning tables is a shared chore in your classroom or lunchroom and you think there may be an allergen on the tables, by all means provide gloves for your food allergic students.  Alternatively, you could find other things for them to clean, like desks.  Having an allergy is no excuse to get out of normal responsibilities.  Some other work with similar meaning should be substituted.

I’m pleased that early educators (that’s preschool through grade 3 in the States) are making an effort to protect the food allergic students in their care.  And I am grateful that the author of the article bothered to write it and NAEYC bothered to publish it.  Please don’t take this post as a criticism of their efforts; in fact, I’m grateful for them.


  1. I think paying attention to food allergies is really important. I teach 3rd grade and at the beginning of each year I send home a paper for the parents to fill out that helps me get to know their child better. It includes questions about allergies, fears, special talents, etc. I think it is a great way for the teacher to get a "heads up" and gives the parents a chance to talk about their child beyond academics.

  2. Thank you for your efforts, Ms. P! I'm glad you're out there. I'm a little sad that the parents at your school don't feel brave enough to come in ahead of time. I've found it's really hard to have a conversation once school starts. My kids' teachers are, well, TEACHING! I don't like to interrupt their already busy days or ask them to stay late so I try to meet with them before school starts, preferably when they're already in the building doing prep work so they don't have to make an extra trip in. The school asks for allergy information on registration forms, but I find that information usually doesn't make it to the teachers before school starts.

    I think you're right that it's important to get to know kids outside of academics early on. It's much easier to "hook" them into your teaching when you know a little bit about them. Plus you can appreciate them more. We do something similar at the nursery school where I work, but I've found that such proactiveness is on a teacher-by-teacher basis at the elementary level.