We are so excited about this post from our friend and fellow allergy mom, Michelle K. In it, she outlines how to give a 30 minute lesson full of practical, important, and age appropriate information about food allergies to a class of elementary school students. Read on for some helpful tips and useful resources. You rock, Michelle! A Classroom Presentation on Food Allergies
"Until there's a cure, education is key."
-Eleanor Garrow, Vice President of Education and Outreach for FAAN.
On my quest to become an ever-vigilant food allergy mom, I stumbled upon the opportunity to do a classroom presentation on food allergies. With open arms, my son's 2nd grade teacher warmly invited me into her classroom to read a book and discuss food allergies with the kids and of course, I happily accepted. So where was the first place I went to seek info? You all win: Online, of course. I really wanted to find out if anyone had done a classroom presentation on food allergies before and posted details, but to no avail I came up with my own agenda. Here are the tools I used:
And within the 30 minutes that I had, I was able to:
1) Read two books 2) Discuss the Be a P.A.L. Program 3) Review the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction 4) Establish a lunch buddy system 5) Honor the teacher
What I found out is that a short and simple agenda such as the one above is all you need in order to execute a successful presentation on food allergies. Now to elaborate…
1) Read two books. Never having owned a storybook on food allergies, I came across a good list online at the KFA: Food Allergy Book Shop which you can find here. So I ordered any that I thought would be most relevant to a 2nd grade class. I then narrowed it down to two that I thought were age-appropriate, educational, informative and at the same time gentle and fun. The two books I chose were Taking Food Allergies To School by Ellen Weiner and Food Allergies and Me by Juniper Skinner. I just posted a book review on the former here. A book review on the latter is written by our very own Get Allergy Wise mom, Irene Chu, which you can read here. Most importantly, these two books portray two well-adapted and conscientious kids who navigate through the food allergy world confidently and successfully. Furthermore, they both illustrate how having food allergies is just one of many elements that makes a person who they are.
2) Discuss the Be A P.A.L. program. If I had only 5 minutes to do a presentation, this would definitely be my go-to topic! I feel that the brochure lays out everything you need to know to make a complete food allergy presentation in a classroom setting. Created by FAAN, the Be A Protect A Life Program "is an educational awareness program designed to help parents and educators teach students what food allergies are and how to help their friends who have food allergies." –FAAN. Need I say more? Even better is the fact that FAAN provides resource materials that you can print out including a poster, P.A.L. HERO awards, and even a Girl Scout Patch Program. I offered the poster to the teacher and printed out one brochure per student and handed them out during this segment. Together we went over the entire brochure which clearly outlines 5 simple steps to keep your classmates with food allergies safe. Many thanks to FAAN for these invaluable teaching tools!
3) Review. If a reaction is going to happen at school let's say at lunchtime, the students are most likely going to be the first witnesses to a reaction. That is why I felt that it was imperative for me to review the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction so they could learn how to identify a reaction if they ever encounter it. The ensuing discussion led me right into a demonstration of what would happen to Kian's trachea if a peanut entered his body and a reaction took place. Using a cardboard tube taken from inside a paper towel roll (with a rubber band wrapped around it), I showed them that a normal trachea (windpipe) is open much like the hole in that tube. I then took off the rubber band so as to represent a cross-section of the trachea, using my hands, I showed them how it could swell up like a marshmallow all the way around causing the inside of the tube, or airway, to become constricted, or completely closed. Eyes widened and jaws dropped. This demo helped me make my next point clear: never take food allergies lightly. Serious things can happen and that's why we never bully or tease someone for having food allergies. And a simple review wouldn't be complete without reviewing the protocol of what to do in the event that a student witnesses these signs which is to tell an adult immediately. The adult should then retrieve the necessary medications and call 911 in the event of an anaphylactic reaction. 4) Establish a Lunch Buddy system. So my son, Kian, who has multiple food allergies including peanuts would often sit at the peanut-free table at school all by himself, that is until I established lunch buddy system. Frankly, he prefers safety over being included socially, he's just one of those kids, but a mom's going to do what a mom's going to do. I finally asked him if he would like it if someone sat with him at lunch time and his face beamed in delight . He answered, "Yes, mom, I would like that." So I created the Lunch Buddy system where each student volunteers once a month to bring a nut-free lunch and sit with Kian at the peanut-free table. How hard is that? They can volunteer alone or bring along friends. The more the merrier. So I provided the teacher with a sign-up calendar as well as a letter to go home to the parents. Contact us if you'd like to get a copy of the letter and we'll be happy to email it to you. Parental feedback has been nothing but positive. They tell me that their child is excited to have their turn to be Kian's lunch buddy! One mom even called to share with me her personal experience with severe food allergies and how everything will be alright because it's definitely manageable.
5) Honor the teacher. I have to say, I cannot be happier with my son's 2nd grade teacher. Not only is she amazingly organized and structured, not to mention talented, but she is compassionate to needs of the food allergy community – a huge BONUS! Since the beginning of the year, she has been very attentive to my concerns and has been diligent in having the students get in the habit of washing hands after lunch and snack whether or not they've eaten nut products. What can I say, she just gets it. It is this simple task of handwashing that minimizes the risk of a food allergy reaction due to cross-contamination or second-hand contact, not to mention the added benefit of having good hygiene and preventing the spread of infection. So at the end of my presentation, I asked the teacher to come up to the front of the classroom and said, "I want to thank you for allowing me to come into your classroom to teach the kids about food allergies. By doing this, you've Protected A Life from food allergies. " I then handed her the P.A.L. HERO Award. I also presented her with a Kyle Dine's Food Allergies Rock CD so she could get a preview of Kyle Dine's visit to our school next month (more on that in another post)! Later that day I received an email from her saying, "I'm still at school rocking out to Allergy Rock! Your presentation was not only informative, but also lighthearted and fun! The children could've sat through another 30 minutes or more."
If you're a busy mom like me living in the food allergy world, I would highly recommend doing a classroom presentation on food allergies! The first step would be to approach the teacher. I would emphasize the importance of raising awareness in the classroom and mention that teaching kids how to identify signs of a reaction could help Protect A Life and in doing so, turn the students into heroes.
If we can gain the support of not only the faculty and staff, but also the student body, then we've covered all our bases and the school environment will be that much safer for our children. Best of luck on your presentations! We'd love to hear about them! And don't forget to RSVP to the Food Allergies Rock Event in San Francisco!