I wrote the post below 5 years ago when Casey was in 3rd grade. Now he's in 8th grade and all I can say is, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
It definitely gets easier when your child is older. They aren't doing arts and crafts using food, and he is better able to negotiate food-related situations. There is the occasional issue of food-allergy teasing or bullying, but overall it's better.
It's not better for little kids who have food allergies and other intolerances, like celiac, though. Recently some friends were talking on Facebook about how difficult it is for their little ones when adults offer them food in school or there is food in the classroom for a class activity or reward.
I thought it was time to give this conversation a kickstart again. What are your thoughts about inclusion in school? I'd love for you to join the conversation in the comments below or on the Welcoming Kitchen Facebook page.
In the context of school what does it mean?
I have been thinking about this for quite a while (probably since my 3rd grader started kindergarten), but especially this week. This week our school is having an Inclusion Week. My children are fortunate to attend a public school that is committed to trying to create a welcoming environment for children with all kinds of strengths and challenges.
|For Inclusion Week, children made squares indicating what makes them unique; then they were joined into classroom quilts.|
I applaud the efforts of the parent volunteers of our Inclusion Committee and our school leaders to focus attention on how we can create an inclusive school community.
How does all of this work when the challenge your child faces is food allergies?
I have written here about concerns about food in the classroom and safety. Inclusion is a slightly different matter.
If a child is allergic to dairy or is gluten-intolerant, how does he or she feel when a classroom reward for good behavior or achieving a fund-raising goal is a pizza party? How different would they feel if it was a movie day or extra gym time or playground time?
If children fundraise by having bake sales or selling candy, how does that make the child feel for whom those foods are dangerous? How might they feel if they were selling non-food items instead?
Why not make a log cabin out of craft sticks and glue instead of pretzels and frosting?
Every time a family of a food-allergic child has to decide whether to speak up that an activity puts their child at risk or has to bring an alternative when there is food in class highlights the child's challenges and can make that child feel different (maybe not quite so included).
If the family does speak up and request an alternate activity, how does that make the child and his classmates feel when the other classes are enjoying a "treat" that they are denied? Will the other children in class hope not to be with the food-allergic child in the future, so that they can still have the "treat?"
With food-allergy rates for children around 1 in 12 children, or 2 per classroom, I urge school communities to rethink inclusion as it impacts children with food allergies. Sometimes food is a necessary part of education. When it's not, or when there's an easy alternative, we can create a more-inclusive environment for many of our children by sticking with something else.
My new book, Ancient Grains: A Guide to Cooking with Power-Packed Millet, Oats, Spelt, Farro, Sorghum & Teff (Superfoods for Life), is available now! You can also find tasty recipes in Super Seeds and Welcoming Kitchen: 200 Delicious Allergen- & Gluten-Free Vegan Recipes.