Science is a hands-on subject. Kids love science when it means rolling up their sleeves and getting into an experiment. Touching, smelling, mixing and enjoying the discovery of what happens and why is what makes science so much fun. On the other hand, experimenting can be risky for kids with allergies, including food allergies. You want your child to get involved and to get excited about learning, but you don’t want him sticking his hands into a science experiment or chemical reaction only to find out too late that it contained an allergen. There are steps you and your child’s school can take to be sure science is safe and fun.
Know Your Allergen
The first step in protecting your child is learning all about his allergen. This goes beyond simply knowing that he is allergic to peanuts or mold. You also need to know what science room items, chemicals and even animals may cause an allergic reaction in your child. Start with the teacher and talk to her about your child’s allergen and where it may sneak into the science curriculum and materials. Together the two of you can figure out if there are any hiding places for an allergen you hadn’t expected.
Get Advanced Notice
If you had never thought about it before, you may be surprised to find out just how possible it is for allergens to be lurking among the materials in your child’s science classroom or supply closet. To help you decide if any of the experiments your child will be expected to do have allergens, request advanced copies of materials for each one. Your child’s teacher should be able to provide you with a material list at least a few days ahead of any experiment so you can scrutinize it and decide if anything poses a risk.
When your child’s teacher plans an experiment that involves an allergen, request accommodations. First, find out if the teacher can substitute one of the materials for something safer. If that isn’t possible, make sure arrangements are made for your child to do an alternative activity so that he gets a similar learning experience, but without the risk of an allergic reaction.
Prepare and Make a Plan for Treatment
If you haven’t done so already, be sure that your school has your child’s allergy treatment plan on hand. This should include information about the allergen, prevention strategies, symptoms of a reaction and instructions for using an epinephrine injector as well as at least two injectors. If you are particularly concerned about the risk in the science classroom, be sure your child’s science teacher has an injector on hand and that your child also has one with him at all times.
Sources of Allergens in the Science Classroom
So where are all these allergens coming from? It has probably been a while since your own experiences in a science class. Depending on the teacher and the exact subject, there could be any number of allergens involved in experiments. Find out more about the possible allergens by getting to know the teacher and her classroom. Here are some of the materials present in many science classrooms that may include allergens:
Animals. Many biology classrooms have aquariums with fish, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals or insects.
Chemicals. Chemistry classes and other science rooms have a lot of chemicals for experiments and some may trigger allergies. These include nickel, sulfate, formaldehyde and others.
Food. Many different food products are used by science teachers as inexpensive materials for experiments. These could include nuts and candies, marshmallows, popcorn and bread.
Field trips. Science field trips are fun, but without precautions they can be dangerous for a child with food allergies. If you can tag along, that’s great, but if not, plan with your child’s teacher and any other chaperones before the event to be sure your child will be safe. Pack his lunch so he doesn’t have to buy something from an unfamiliar cafeteria or restaurant.
Science can be a fun subject, but also risky for kids with allergies. Don’t let your child lose his enthusiasm for exploration and experiments. Take the right precautions and work with his teacher and school, and he can continue to enjoy science safely.