Do you ever have that thought in your head that won’t go away? Like an itch you’ve got to scratch. A niggling thought that, over time (and countless episodes of staring out the window in a daydream) evolves into an all consuming ‘thing’ that you need to do ‘something’ about – but you’re not sure what?
I feel like that about the ‘Coeliac Awareness’ afternoon Peggy had with her class back in June. I wrote a blog post about it at the time;( Little Coeliacs at School) but it wasn’t until I discussed the session with her teacher at last weeks parents evening that I thought ‘I never did write about what happened after the lesson’. You see it was a game changer for us.
In the build up to the lesson it was agreed with the head mistress and class teacher that Peggy’s class would learn about Coeliac Disease in ‘Healthy Schools’ week. We contacted Coeliac UK who posted us a ‘young champions’ pack which contains learning resources like word searches, food bingo, colouring activities and a quiz (not to mention loads of stickers #winning!) The night before the big event we baked buns (1 for each member of her class) and her teacher found a video on You Tube which explained Coeliac Disease in a child relatable way.
At parents evening her teacher explained how confident Peggy was at standing up in front of her class and answering questions about the condition (which, coming from a child who shy’s away from volunteering answers at ‘carpet time’ came as a surprise!) I remember, when we sat down to dinner that evening and I asked ‘how did it go today’ I got the usual one word answer of ‘good’ before returning to her sausage and chips.
It wasn’t until the 1st party came around following the Coeliac lesson that I noticed how her friends were with her. Loudly informing the staff bringing out the food at the party at our local soft play area that “she can’t eat that” and “what have you got for Peggy?” (she wouldn’t have had the confidence of some of her classmates to be so vocal). I know from chatting to some ‘Mum friends’ in the playground that the kids went home and talked to their parents about it too. Now, gluten-free sweets are dished out at the end of the day to celebrate a classmates birthday and party bag contents are adapted accordingly. She went to 2 parties in the Summer where ‘special’ GF cakes were brought out to sing happy birthday (and 1 party was entirely GF to accommodate Peggy!)
When I told her teacher about this she had noticed the same thing in class – her peers looking out for her when food was involved. I think it helped Peggy to understand too. Although we have talked at home about Coeliac Disease and what she can and can’t have, I think the lesson really helped her to get a grasp on what was going on and she learnt about it alongside her friends. They don’t treat her differently, just adapt situations to make sure she’s included. Not for the first time since diagnosis – I’ve been blown away by a child’s ability to accept a situation and carry on regardless – but this time it’s not my own children who have surprised me but those who surround her.
This is my niggle; why doesn’t every Coeliac Child have an experience like Peggys? In which they learn about their condition alongside their classmates and go forward through school and life being included. It’s not a problem or a big deal. It’s just a fact. Just like some friends can’t have peanuts. Some struggle to read. Some can’t stand loud, noisy environments. Some can’t eat dairy. Some use a wheelchair. Some get out of breath and need an inhaler. To kids, it’s no big deal, it’s just the way it is.
So heres my plan; “Inclusivity Sessions” at school. Based on the experience we had at Peggys school with the Coeliac lesson I want kids to learn about the medical issues and concerns of their classmates. To start with something I know a bit about ie Coeliac Disease but I then want this model to evolve to include other dietary needs like allergies and intolerances. I want this to then grow to include learning needs like dyslexia and dyspraxia. Autism. Asthma. The list goes on.
Am I day dreaming? Is this unrealistic? I don’t know. But I’m hoping that by sharing my daydream publicly with you I’ll become accountable! I mentioned my plans to a few folks at last weeks ‘Allergy and Free From’ show in Liverpool and their enthusiasm gave me the kick up the bum to write this; thank you Gluten Free Cuppa Tea , Jane Devonshire, The Intolerant Gourmand.
Heres where I’m at so far in my master plan;
• Face Book Group – Food For All At School
• We own the domain http://www.foodforallatschool.com/co.uk
• An exciting project has just been launched with the Graphics students at my local college to design a logo, branding and a classroom resource for the campaign!
• Gathering experts in the field of nutrition, law, catering in schools and nurseries, teachers etc to sit on a steering group to drive the project forward
• Trial sessions in schools
I’m hoping that, once we have some classroom resources which are engaging and exciting for kids to use, we can approach brands for sponsorship and potential funding to build a website. I’d love to build a team of individuals who will go in to schools and deliver ‘inclusivity’ sessions with kids to learn about the conditions of their classmates such as ‘how to cook for a friend with allergies and dietary needs’ so they invite them around for tea after school. Design party bags which contains items that everyone can enjoy. Sample the ‘free-from’ food their classmates with dietary needs eat everyday.
I hope that, by learning about the issues of those who surround them, our children will move forward through life with the tools to build inclusive environments. After all, education changes lives. What do you think? Am I daydreaming like Peg at the park on Saturday?!