At the Sudbury Cooperative Preschool, we believe in a proactive approach to allergy education.
It was about 15 years ago that we saw our first child enrolled with severe food allergies. He was so allergic to peanuts that even the smell of peanut butter in the room could trigger an allergic reaction. As a cooperative school community, we came together to figure out how to keep this child safe. We created a team and developed an extensive policy for children with food allergies and put it in our parent handbook.
In the years since that first child went through the school and enjoyed a safe preschool experience, we have seen many others. All of our educators are trained annually in CPR, medication administration, and the use of epi pens. Staff meetings often focus on this topic and different strategies are discussed. We ask everyone to make sure that all identified triggers stay out of the school, and require hand washing upon arrival.
A young child with severe food allergies can learn how to protect him or herself. It’s important that they are given the tools to do this. When a school community is there to support these children, they gain the confidence to learn how to keep themselves safe. The other children in the class also learn how to be a good friend to someone with serious allergies.
Regardless of whether specific foods/ingredients are banned, children with life-threatening food allergies should bring their own snacks and lunches to school. This is the most reliable way of ensuring that a child with life-threatening allergies does not inadvertently consume something that may trigger an allergic reaction. This also helps the child understand their allergy and learn to be careful about what they eat.
Over the years, we have encountered many children with different serious allergic reactions. We constantly reevaluate our policies and procedures for keeping them safe. Sometimes this requires vigilant effort and cooperation from everyone in the school. Parents of children with food allergies should not feel that they have to forego all the benefits that early education can give to their child.