Thursday, April 23, 2009

Field Trips and Food Allergies--What's the Story?

I have often thought that parents of food-allergic kids shouldn't necessarily always be expected to attend field trips. Sometimes work, life, illness, childcare--you name it--get in the way of parents attending. And let's face it--just because our child has a severe food allergy doesn't mean we're clamoring to get on the school bus and chaperone kids.

But since I've started chaperoning, I've learned a lot about how to keep my daughter safe, even if I'm not there. And I've also learned that it pays to be there if you can. Let me explain.

When my daughter, now 9 and finishing 3rd grade, was in the younger grades, I sent her on field trips without me. The trips never involved lunch and they were always within 15 minutes from home, so I felt reasonably secure. My daughter also had wonderful teachers/health workers at school who had the thing down pat (after a lot of communication with me.) I had her younger sister to care for and not a lot of childcare available to me at the time, so I did what I could.

Now that my daughter is older she is being sent on field trips into Chicago, which is great for her from an educational standpoint, but further away by car than I feel comfortable with (we live in a suburb very close to Chicago, but with traffic, etc. I couldn't get to her quickly). Also, a "sack lunch" is always involved now. And we know what that usually means: Peanut Butter City.

So I've attended the last 2 3rd grade field trips and I'm getting a feel for the pitfalls for her to avoid. Also, it's just been good to be nearby--as the kids get older, they are not watched as closely, so even though I'm not as worried about accidental ingestion with my very FA savvy daughter, there is peanut matter and residue all over the place. Yesterday, for example, my daughter's school was the 4th group to eat lunch in a small museum cafeteria. No such thing as a peanut-free table there and of course, I had no way of knowing what people had been eating before. There was even a vending machine that offered peanuts, Reese's, etc. right in the cafeteria. My daughter's teacher offered me Clorox Wipes for the table and I also brought my daughter a placemat (hey, this could be a good use of the Litter Free Lunch napkins--field trip table covers!) and she was just fine. In fact, most of her group had not even brought PB (a surprise to me, since it's never been prohibited at school).

But here was the tricky part: the noise level and general chaos as the kids shoveled in their lunches before moving on to the next activity made it nearly impossible for anyone to notice if my daughter was in distress. Now, her teacher was nearby but teacher's can't have their eyes everywhere at once. And of course I was there--I'm pretty certain she would have been more attentive had I not been able to attend. Still, general chaos does not make it easy to spot a kid having an allergy attack.

Also, the museum we attended had several "touch" exhibits. While relatively rare, kids can rub their eyes and have an allergic reaction if someone with food on their hands touched it before them.

I would suggest to any of you with FA kids heading off on a field trip that includes lunch to remind their teacher to bring the EpiPen and Benadryl, of course, but also, include some type of placemat for them to cover the table with. Ask the teacher if she wouldn't mind bringing some wipes for the table (most will be happy to).

Here's what to tell your child: sit where the teacher can see you at lunch. A drag for some kids, I know, but if your child has food allergies, they are probably used to this by now. If they have trouble, emphasize that they should tell someone immediately to get the teacher if they can't do it by themselves. Don't get lost in the crowd--stick near the teachers if they can, even on the school bus.

I really have enjoyed attending these field trips--the kids are fun and the destinations have been wonderful. Yesterday we even got to stop at Buckingham Fountain and let the kids run around on a nice spring day in Chicago! But I've also seen some of the pitfalls with my own eyes and being able to give my daughter some specific direction here has been invaluable. That way, if I can't make it, I'll be able to help everyone better prepare.

Note: Tomorrow (or Monday at the latest!--it's been a busy week) I'll have my first Restaurant Roundup. Thanks for participating and keep it coming!


AllergyMentor said...

What a timely post! As the end of the year approaches, field trips are looming. I have been trying to decide whether to find childcare for my two munchkins to go on the trips, or be brave and trust her teacher. The zoo? Going with. The science center 10 minutes from home? Trust the teacher. Thanks for your perspective, it will help us all prepare better.

Unknown said...

I've attended all of my FA son's field trips. The challenging one for next year- a trip to state capital (Harrisburg) with a stop at the Hershey Chocolate factory.

Students are permitted to bring no more than $20 to spend at the Hershey candy shop and then it's a chocolate fest on the bus ride home- Huh??!?! I have 11 months to either get that policy changed or come up with an alternative trip for my son.

Spokane Allergy Dad said...

Just google "Nathan Walters" and see why it is a very good idea to keep track of your kids on a field trip. He died from a peanut reaction on a field trip here in Spokane a few years ago. Terrible tragedy.