Surviving & Thriving in Preschool
Do you have a gluten-free preschooler?
Sending your child off to preschool is a big deal. This may be the first time separated from your child, which is often hard for some parents. Factor in sending your child off with a gluten allergy and your worry may just increase. Finding the right gluten-free preschool is a must.
Your elementary, middle and high schools are typically dictated by your neighborhood location. For preschool, it’s the parents’ choice where to send your child. Location, cost and finding the best fit possible are all important steps to regard.
If you have multiple options near you, you’re in luck to find one that will fit your gluten-free preschool needs.
Try to visit a few preschools one or two years before your child will start. Yes, start early. Some schools fill up quite quickly, leaving no spot for your child to attend a safe gluten-free preschool. Talk with neighbors and friends for good recommendations.
Prepare your child
At this age, parents typically always know where their child will be, whether at school or on a play date.
This is why it’s very important to teach your child to understand their gluten-allergy. Empower your child to keep himself safe when he’s not with you.
With your little ones, continually explain what they can and cannot eat and review this often. Play games with pictures, point out food labels and make it a game when shopping together. The more aware they are, the healthier they will remain. By teaching them to eat healthier foods you’re also setting them up for a lifetime of healthy living.
My three year old always knew to ask if something was gluten-free and speak up before he ate anything. He understood what he could and couldn’t eat because we were always reviewing at home.
What about craft time?
Teach your child which craft items to be careful using as well. Items like play-dough, glue, slime and certain projects with flours may be problematic. Remember those macaroni necklaces? Not the best option for your gluten-free child. (Yet, keep reading to find how to fix this issue.)
Preschoolers love to play with play-dough, which is typically made with gluten. They also love to put their hands in their mouths often. Using gluten-filled play-dough in preschool is not a good bet. You can send in a substitute play-dough or make a gluten-free play-dough at home.
If your child is older (4-5 years old), he may understand keeping his hands out of his mouth or near his face when using play-dough, and washing hands very well when finished.
Working with the teacher to have safe materials is beneficial. Send in your gluten-free pasta for those fun macaroni necklaces!
Is there a Food Policy in place?
Once you find a preschool you like, check on their food policy. With allergies on the rise, these policies have changed a lot over the years.
Some schools pass out a snack each day and do not allow outside food. This would not work well for a gluten-free child if the school is serving animal or goldfish crackers for snack each day.
Your best bet is to send your child’s own snack so you know exactly what he has eaten while there. If this is not allowed, talk to the director to see how you can best work together to meet your child’s needs. Some schools do not allow this, but opening up the discussion may help change the rules.
Again, you’re choosing the perfect gluten-free preschool for your child. Ask all the questions you need to make your decision.
Food use in class
Often preschools incorporate foods into activities. Here open communication with the teacher is imperative. Working together will help know ahead of time when food will be used in the classroom.
During our preschool years, our teachers informed us of any food being used in upcoming lessons. This gave us time to send a substitute food to allow our child to participate in the lesson. He was never left out of learning. A win for all!
Eating lunch at preschool?
Depending on the preschool of choice, lunch may not be an issue. Often preschool children bring their own lunch to school, which should cause minimal problems.
Teach your child to NOT share food in order to keep his body healthy and safe. If the school will be providing lunch, you’ll need to talk with the director about safe gluten-free options for your child, making sure the food is prepared in a safe environment (deterring cross-contamination).
The Do Not Share Rule can be tricky as we are trying so hard at this age to get our children TO SHARE.
Keep it simple and explain the Do Not Share Rule with FOOD, making sure that your child knows that this can make their body sick. But, teach them to always share their toys, books or with helping others.
Check on Forms the School Needs Filled Out
Some preschools will have forms in place for your gluten-free child. This allows you to explain what your child can and cannot do within the classroom, and allows for better communication with the teacher and school.
Some schools schedule a talk with the parent, director and teachers to understand the best practices in keeping your child healthy at school.
If this is not a practice at your school, request a time before school starts to speak with the classroom teacher and the director. It’s helpful to write out what your child needs, keeping everyone easily informed.
When speaking to the teacher, you’ll want to cover: foods that may be harmful to your child, items in the classroom that may contain harmful ingredients, how to handle these situations, and the protocol if your child does have a reaction at school.
Who will know what your child needs?
It’s also a good practice to inquire about the school policy when other teachers are in the classroom. At times a substitute or other teachers cover for the class. Anyone working with your child should be aware of any extra steps needed to keep your child safe at school.
Be opened with your child
Most importantly have talks with your child on choosing safe foods, especially around times of holiday or birthday celebrations in the classroom. You do not want to create a little “worrier” about food. You do want to create a safe minded child when it comes to eating.
Our preschool allowed us to keep gluten-free cupcakes in the school freezer. Whenever a special event or birthday was celebrated, my child had a treat to eat and was never left out.
Doing your extra homework, teaching and reviewing with your child and keeping open communication with your gluten-free preschool will ensure a fabulous preschool experience for your family.
As they grow and develop, children tend to better understand and process their gluten-free life and how it affects them.
Even in preschool, they can navigate their way through a healthy, safe school year.
Be their support to help them grow along the way!