School Presentations Help Teach Classmates About Celiac Disease

When a new school year rolls around, how do you make things as easy as possible for your g-free kid? How do you make peers and a new teacher understand why your child has to be on a special diet?  It is helpful for a child if people are understanding and sympathetic (in a positive way) of why he or she is on a restricted diet and not able to eat certain birthday treats that are sent in, etc.  One option is to write and send everyone letters and lists and hope that they read and understand everything you’re alerting them to. A better option is to get right in there yourself — with a simple classroom presentation — and teach them what Celiac and the gluten-free diet are all about. That is what Erin A. did for her daughter, Eilea, and we both hope that her positive experience provides inspiration for more parents to follow suit.

Erin is one of those stand-out Moms I have met online — through g-free kid’s website, Facebook page and by email. Erin first got in touch with me when she sent in her daughter’s photo for the g-free kids’ online photo album, and one of the things she mentioned was a classroom presentation she was putting together. I could already tell she was an amazing advocate for her gluten-free kid, so I asked her to let me know how it went. I hope you enjoy her summary and photos below. She writes:

“My daughter and I were first inspired by the “Super Celiac costume that you created for your daughter, Morgan, last Halloween. I made a similar costume for my daughter, Eilea, who enjoyed choosing her favorite colors of material and gemstones to decorate the costume with. She also wore one of the Tribandz awareness bracelets to complete her ensemble.

I then took it a step further and decided to make a presentation to my daughter’s first grade class, to let them know a little about Celiac and being gluten free. As I was thinking about what to do, I realized that most of the information that Eilea and I wanted to share with the kids was included in the children’s book, “Mommy, What is Celiac Disease?” so I decided to make it the focus of our presentation.

I first got in touch with my daughter’s teacher to arrange the presentation date and time. (A presentation like this might take all of 15 minutes, give or take, so it should be easy enough to fit it in).  When it came time to make the presentation, Eilea was excused from class for a few minutes so I could help her put her costume on over her school uniform.  Eilea then waited in the hall until I gave her the signal to come in.

I went back into the classroom and helped the teacher gather the kids around for the presentation.  I pretended to wonder where Eilea was, then decided to start without her, welcoming the kids and thanking them for letting us share this information.  Eilea came in the room then and I said, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s SUPER CELIAC GIRL!!”

Eilea came to sit next to me and we proceeded to read, “Mommy, What is Celiac Disease?” together to the class.  (The book is written with a dialogue so that a parent can read their lines and a child can read theirs, too, if you wish to read it aloud together.)

When we finished the book, we answered any questions the kids had and helped explain some of the things in the book.  Everyone particularly liked the part where the grass being flattened down is like the villi in her intestines.

Super Celiac Girl then served some gluten-free snacks to her classmates and teacher.  Everyone was able to enjoy a small Dixie cup full of Snyder’s GF Pretzels, Annie’s GF Snickerdoodle Bunny Snacks and Annie’s GF Chocolate and Vanilla Bunny Snacks.  The snacks got rave reviews, especially the Snyder’s pretzels.

I also created a handout for the kids to read over and bring home to share with their parents about Celiac disease and being gluten free, which Eilea proudly handed out to her classmates.

The presentation was a hit, Eilea felt so special being the center of attention, and her peers and teacher learned a lot about Celiac and the gluten-free diet through the book, our Q&A session and the handout. It was totally worthwhile.

We hope that we’ve been able to help spread awareness about Celiac and the gluten-free diet. This year I also plan to give all of her teachers a letter explaining her diet and the need for diligence in keeping her snacks safe.  She’s very good about not eating something questionable but we can use all the help we can get.  I’m planning on leaving a box of non-refrigerated GF snacks that can be left in the classroom for those unexpected treat days.  I also plan to communicate with the teacher in order to get a list of birthdays and planned celebrations so that we can be ready with treats when they’re needed.”

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Many thanks to Erin for sharing her experience. Please comment below if you have done something similar for/with your g-free kid — or if this gives you just the push you needed to get out there for the first time and do it yourself!  🙂  You can do it, and your child will thank you for it!

As we like to say,
“Celiac disease isn’t contagious, but awareness is. Please help spread it!”

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Please note:  As a mom of a daughter with Celiac and another daughter with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) I also believe that helping spread awareness of the latter condition is equally as important as Celiac. Just because your g-free kid is GF for reasons other than Celiac doesn’t mean you couldn’t hold a presentation like the one above. There are a number of other children’s books (that don’t focus on Celiac disease) that you could use instead. The most important thing is that you are helping those around your g-free kid to better understand why he or she is on a special diet. I will continue to try to fill this website with helpful resources that will allow you to do just that. Thanks for the support.

School holiday parties: will your gluten-free kid feel like one of the gang?

 

Be honest: does the thought of an upcoming school holiday party conjure up images of your g-free kid having Charlie Brown’s typical luck: being left out of all the fun and feeling like the odd man out? With a little planning and a pre-party attitude check, this certainly doesn’t have to be the case — in fact, it can be quite the opposite…

Most preschool and elementary school classes in the U.S. will be having a Valentine’s Day party next Tuesday (like it or not) complete with snacks, drinks and valentine card/candy exchanges. How you view your child’s party will probably reflect the way your child sees it, so it’s a good idea to think about how you’re going to approach it beforehand…

Pre-party list check
To kids, Valentine’s Day is mostly about the candy. The list of gluten-free candy is as long as that zigzag thing around Charlie Brown’s waist….it just keeps going and going. Sure, there is definitely candy that your child needs [to know] to avoid — like licorice or anything containing cookie pieces or “crisps” — to name the obvious. But with so many great lists of gluten-free candy out there, you really can’t go wrong, as long as you teach your child the differences between them.

My favorite, go-to list is from Celiac Family — I love how it’s organized by color and level of safety. It starts with candy (listed in green) that is safe, no question. The middle portion of this list (the type in orange) indicates label warnings about production lines, etc. Personally, I will buy candy in packages that read “manufactured in a facility that produces wheat…” but I will not buy candy that reads “may contain wheat” even if the ingredients appear g-free. But that’s just me. If that’s not strict enough for your family, then stick with the list at the top in green type. As far as the red list at the bottom goes, (if your child is old enough) bring him to the grocery store with you, (or look online) show him what all of those candies look like and explain why he can’t eat them. Then, of course, be sure to remind him that there is plenty of candy he can still enjoy.

Here are a few ways you can handle holiday parties, depending on the level of your desired involvement and your child’s personality:

“Sally”:  Some parents will print off a list to notify parents and teachers of the huge assortment of GF candy they can buy to accommodate all students, as well as a list of gluten-free party treat and snack ideas. They might send along a nice note saying how much they and their child would appreciate everyone making sure food is safe for the entire class. If parents really want to get involved with the party planning, they’ll call the teacher or room parents to coordinate what will be served. This might be a good option if you have a very young child who doesn’t yet understand what he can or cannot eat, needs a lot of direction, or has difficulty speaking for himself. This will also help to ease a new-at-gluten-free parent’s fears of the unknown, until they settle into the new routine.

“Peppermint Patty”:  At the other end of the spectrum are parents who just want to know when the party is so they can send their own food in. These parents choose to just prep their g-free kid to not eat anything he’s not absolutely sure about, and will send him in with any type of treat and a few pieces of candy. This way he has his own stuff to enjoy, regardless of whether or not there is anything served that is safe for him to eat. This will work fine for more independent kids, and those who are very comfortable eating their own food and don’t care that what they have might be different.This also works well for parents who don’t want to feel like they are rocking the boat but still want their kids to be safe.

“Lucy”:  A middle-of-the-road option is parents who check to see when a party is and ask what’s being sent in for it — making it clear that they are not trying to control anything, but that they just want to send in something comparable for their child. Other parents/teachers who are involved will be reminded of a child’s needs, but not feel like this parent is trying to dictate the plans. This works well for parents who are used to parties like this, knowing that there may or may not be some things their child can eat. It works for kids who are confident enough to know they can only eat certain things but who also don’t want to feel like they stick out with what they are eating, or feel left out with what they’re not. (Hence, sending in a comparable treat.)

*With any of these options, parents can also volunteer to send in a sweet, g-free treat for the whole class, like fruit skewers or chocolate-dipped marshmallows with sprinkles.

Pre-party reality check
Clearly, what works for your family may be a combination of these, or something entirely different. And you may find yourself moving from one extreme to the other as your child’s needs change. There’s no right or wrong. Every family must find their most comfortable way of handling things like this, and sometimes it takes a certain amount of adaptation to see what works best.

While we can’t expect the world to conform to our kids’ needs, you may find that, in time, as you and your child help spread awareness about gluten-free foods, that you might gain some new supporters. I personally believe that a lot of it depends on your family’s attitude and how demanding you are that other people accommodate your child’s diet. From my experience, politeness and sincerity go a long way to work in your favor, as well as gratitude for even the smallest gesture of thoughtfulness that is shown along the way.

Pre-party attitude check
As a parent, however you decide to handle school holiday parties, please remember to put on a happy face when discussing it with your child. G-free kids of all ages may already be a bit uneasy, especially if they are new at the diet. Show them that you are excited that they get to go to a party, remind them about what’s okay for them to eat, and let them know what they’ll be bringing in for it. Tell them you hope they have fun and that you can’t wait to hear all about it. Remind them that holiday parties are about a lot more than just food — and to just relax and enjoy their friendships, the decorations, music, games, Valentine cards and loot. Kids are much more resilient, adaptable and flexible than some people might think.

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Do you have any more thoughts on the topic that might help other parents?
Feel free to comment below with any additional advice. Thanks!