Food sharing is prevalent in human society. We make special foods to share with others on special occasions. When we dine at a restaurant, we often share bites with others at our table. Food is often how we connect with one another. But what happens when a person cannot share in this important ritual? When someone refuses to eat something shared, they may be perceived as separate and no longer part of the group. If the person must continue to refuse, they are less likely to be included. Or, even worse, they may experience increased pressure to try “just a bite.” Children with food allergies are put in the position of refusing or rejecting something offered by others, including adults whose primary function is to keep the children safe.
Food Allergies and the Montessori Environment: Being Prepared
At a very young age, children with food allergies can feel ostracized and stigmatized for their disability and run the risk of being teased, bullied, and left out of the community. (Social Consequences of Food Allergy)
In our previous blog Food Allergy Awareness in the Montessori Environment, we mentioned that in a class of 30 students it is highly possible that at least two children have potentially fatal food allergies. Anaphylaxis requires only that the allergen enter the blood stream through digestion, inhalation, or absorption through a mucous membrane such as eyes, nose, or mouth. It stands to reason that in order to keep all children safe, your Montessori school should consider having a school-wide policy regarding food allergies. It must be stated that these policies are not meant to punish but to save lives by restricting common allergens from being brought to and served at school.
Making Food Allergy Policies Inclusive
Some schools incorporate policies regarding food allergies that are intended to protect the child, but which exclude the child from the community. For example:
- Expecting parents of children with food allergies to provide “safe” foods for snack.
- Sending children with food allergies out of the room during birthday or holiday celebrations or while others are cooking in the classroom.
- Requiring children with food allergies to eat at a separate, allergen-free table.
Singling children out under the auspices of keeping them safe may ensure their physical safety, but it is damaging to their psyche. In addition, it sends a clear message to the other children that it is okay to exclude others because they are different from the community as a whole.
A school-wide policy regarding food allergies creates an atmosphere of respect and community. To exclude even one member of the community because of a disability is not within Montessori’s teaching of peace and Cosmic Education. By ensuring the safety of all children, we are meeting the basic primal needs of all children, for without that, no learning can occur.
Communication and education are key to implementing and enforcing a school-wide allergy policy. By reassuring parents that the health and safety of all children are an integral part of the core beliefs and values of your Montessori school, you establish a respectful relationship with your Montessori families and reinforce the fact that their children will be nurtured and safe while in your care.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, September 3, 2013.