By Kimberly Pellicore
When my son Ty – who has asthma and severe food allergies – was ready to start preschool, my husband and I felt it was important to find a school that fit both his academic and health needs.
It was overwhelming at first. I decided to make a list of all daycares and preschools I was interested in for Ty and I jotted down a series of questions to ask each school director and teachers.
When it came time to choose Ty’s preschool, I was able to made an educated decision. We found him a safe and nurturing environment, as well as some peace of mind for ourselves.
Here are some questions to ask when interviewing daycares and preschools:
Does the preschool have an asthma and food allergy policy?
Ask for a hard copy of their policy for reference as you compare facilities. Some may have this information available online via a handbook.
How will my child’s asthma and food allergy needs be communicated within the school to teachers, parents and classmates?
When it comes to a child’s allergies or asthma, communication with staff is important so they know symptoms and triggers to watch for in case of a reaction. Other parents will want to know about a child’s food allergies for off-site birthday parties and play dates; send an email or letter to parents with suggestions for safe snacks or treats. Ask the preschool director or teachers how health conditions are discussed – in an age-appropriate way – with students.
What is the medication policy?
Ask which staff members, if any, are allowed to administer medication during the school day. Are they present daily for the duration of the day and what happens when they are absent? Verify where medication is stored, if it is temperature controlled, and who has access to it in case of emergency.
What type of medication training is provided?
Many schools require personnel to have CPR certification that includes some asthma and allergy education and instruction. If the school you select doesn’t offer it, consider doing it yourself. When my son started preschool, I met with the director and teachers and I personally showed them how to administer his asthma inhaler and epinephrine auto-injector, as well as how to create a more allergy-friendly classroom.
Does the preschool offer menu accommodations for children with food allergies or is it the parent’s responsibility to bring in safe snacks and meals?
If the school provides meals and snacks your child will eat, it is critical to work closely with the food service manager to discuss allergens in food, as well as the potential for cross-contact when food is served or via suppliers. Provide a list of unsafe ingredients to watch out for on food labels. Whether or not you choose to pack your child’s snacks and lunch, send a box of safe snacks for your child’s teacher to keep in the room for impromptu celebrations.
How will the preschool handle mealtimes in your child’s classroom?
Some preschools with toddlers may ban all peanut or tree nut products due to the potential for sharing food and the likelihood of young children putting everything and anything in their mouths. Others may enforce a peanut-free eating area with strict cleaning guidelines.
How are eating surfaces cleaned after mealtime?
Eating surfaces should be cleaned with hot water and soap before and after snacks and meals to eliminate as much allergen residue as possible. This is important to consider even if there’s a food allergen ban already in place, as sometimes the space may be used for purposes outside of preschool. Some church-based preschools, for example, may host meetings or special events in which food is served after school hours. Is the classroom cleaned in the morning before students arrive?
Are scented room sprays, deodorizers or candles used?
Some teachers use scented room sprays or deodorizers or candles to keep the classroom smelling fresh, but these can aggravate asthma symptoms.
Kimberly Pellicore is a preschool teacher and the mother of two children, one of whom has asthma and severe food allergies. She is a freelance writer and author of the blog thefoodallergymom.org and lives in Kingwood, Texas.
Reviewed by Andrea Holka, AIRE Nebraska and Peyton Eggleston, MD