Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Food Allergy and Field Trips: How to Keep Kids Safe
I've chaperoned many field trips over the years and I've learned a lot about avoiding potential food allergy field trip pitfalls. Even if you can't personally attend the field trip, you can still take steps to create a safer experience. As your child gets older, they will take on more of the responsibility to stay safe on field trips, but younger kids are always going to need an extra boost from the adults. Here are some things that have worked for me.
Get the field trip schedule well in advance. Your child's teacher should be able to provide you with this info, so be sure to check in and ask if anything is coming up. That way, you'll have plenty of time to prepare.
Show them you are a parent who cares by speaking to the health office and/or nurse. Checking in with the health office (or nurse if your school is lucky enough to have one) is a must. Give a call to speak about medications and review emergency procedures. When my child was in first and second grades, I called a few days before and on the morning of each field trip, too, just to make sure everybody was on the same page with medication, etc. By the third field trip the school nurse told me she had all the info ready for me because she expected a phone call (she was very nice about it.) I don't think being a bit of a pest is a bad idea, especially as you establish yourself at a school. You want them to know you are on top of the situation, so never be afraid to show that you are a parent who cares.
Identify an adult helper. If you aren't a chaperone, you'll want someone to keep an extra watch on your child. It could be the teacher, another parent chaperone who knows your child or a health aide, whoever has the time and know-how about keeping your child safe. This person can give your child hand wipes (be sure to pack some for your child) after interactive museum exhibits, for example, and secure a clean spot to sit at lunch, preferably away from your child's food allergens. Discuss food allergy "hot spots" with the helper such as shared equipment or "touch" exhibits; before lunch, after lunch and after using shared equipment with other students.
Be a brown bag lunch expert. Many times, kids are not allowed to bring a lunch box on their field trip. (If this is really an issue, speak with the teacher. Usually you can get an accommodation for food allergies.) You will want to pack some paper towelling that your child can use as a place mat at the table, to protect their safe food from any allergens left over from previous lunch-eaters.
What if your child really wants to brown-bag it? Keep your child's cold lunch foods cold by using the old frozen juice box trick: freeze a juice box and use it to keep a turkey sandwich or pasta salad cold; as the day wears on, the box will thaw and the food still stays fresh. If your child likes them, peanut butter substitutes such as SunButter are helpful for a brown bag lunch, too. Just make sure that your teacher knows it's not peanut butter--I labeled my daughter's sandwich when she was younger. SunButter also makes individual packs so that the label is there for everyone to see.
Have your child eat lunch in view of the teacher. Many allergic kids will get an "honor spot" next to or near to the teacher at lunchtime so that the teacher can easily keep an eye on them.
Go over the safety basics with your child. Even young kids can learn to wash their hands before eating and say "no" to foods that they aren't sure about. Make sure that your young child understands that they should find an adult right away if they are having any difficulties; emphasize that they shouldn't keep to themselves or go hide in a bathroom stall if they feel ill. Role playing situations with your child will give both of you confidence.
Although caution and common sense is required, most field trips will go off without a hitch, so be sure to encourage your child to enjoy themselves while also staying safe. Field trips can be wonderful, but a certain amount of chaos will always reign. Being prepared and going over the safety procedures before hand is a huge step in making sure your child's field trips are safe AND educational.
How about you? What field trip tips have you found to be the most successful?