Osh is due to start in Reception class at school in September. I won’t lie and say that the prospect of this hasn’t filled me with fear,
mild moderate hysteria and caused me a fair few sleepless nights of late. However, the fact is that he is starting school regardless of my anxiety about it, so I’m doing my best to make it a positive, exciting experience for him and our family. Here are my tips for the starting school process and giving it every chance of going as smoothly as possible.
Make sure you check with the local authority when the application deadline is. Your child has needs that require extra dialogue and thought on the school’s part, so make sure you get that application in on time.
Put as much supplementary information as possible into the free text section of the application form. List your child’s allergies and other conditions, explain what this means for their daily life and how you think it may affect them in school. What adjustments might the school need to make to keep your child safe? What everyday items could present a risk for your child if they are overlooked in his school environment?
Once your child’s place is confirmed
Make contact with the school and ask for a meeting with the Head/Class Teacher/AlnCo. It’s a good idea to also let your health visitor and/or hospital specialist nurses know when the meeting is going to be as they may also be available to attend. Don’t be afraid to ask them if they’ll go along with you; the worst they can say is that they have appointments and can’t make it!
Before meeting with the school
We found it useful to write a list of questions in advance that we wanted to ask. From experience, if we don’t do this before a more ‘official’ appointment, there is a lot of face-palming when we get home because we’ve inevitably forgotten to cover something. You’ll have your own questions based on your own circumstances, but you might find my list of questions a handy starting point if you mind is blank.
Following up the meeting with school
It’s always useful to follow up the meeting in writing. This doesn’t have to be formal, just an e-mail for the attention of the people you met with, thanking them for their time and summarising what you discussed, with confirmation of everything you’ve agreed needs to happen in advance of your child starting school.
We linked in with our Health Visitor to draft a Healthcare Plan for Osh, due to the complexity of his allergies and other needs. This document forms the ‘instructions’ that school staff then follow in terms of healthcare. It’s worth really taking some time to think about everything you want included if you draft one of these up with school/health visitor. If you feel something needs to happen on daily basis for your child, then ask for it to be included in the plan. This way there’s less chance of it not happening when your child starts. An example of this for us was wanting to make sure activity materials were checked for presence/risk of exposure to Osh’s allergens. We added this in as part of his plan to make sure it was there in black and white, adding that class teacher should liaise with us on alternative materials with reasonable advance notice.
Prep with your child
Make sure you regularly run through your child’s list of allergies with them.
It can be tricky when they have multiple allergies and I often find that Osh will struggle to remember them all if he’s asked what he’s allergic to. But if I ask him “are you allergic to wheat/eggs/milk etc?” he always knows he is, so it’s worth trying this approach.
We have made use of Osh’s toy kitchen and food for this – asking him to sort foods that are safe from the basket and leave foods he can’t eat to one side. When he chooses something correctly, we explain why it’s unsafe/safe and tell him what it contains.
Role playing conversations is a great tool too. With Osh, we have mock conversations to build up his confidence in responding to someone if they offer him food to eat that he isn’t sure about/knows he need to avoid.
Last but absolutely not least, we role play about what happens when Osh ‘feels funny’ and needs his epi-pens. We also involve his friends and cousins in this so they all know what his epi-pen looks like, how it is administered and that 999 needs to be called as soon as it is given to him. We’re not expecting his cousins and friends to administer the medicine, but we do want to reduce any fear they might feel if they encounter the situation in reality. We talk about how Osh might feel and look if he has a reaction, so that he and his buddies will have more chance of knowing when they need to call a teacher.
Encourage good habits.
You can practice the skills that will help your child every day in the lead up to starting school. I’ve listed a few things below which are good to start with:
- Teach him/her to wash hands independently before and after food and drink and to use his/her soap substitute each time.
- Encourage him/her to take responsibility for remembering to apply emollient – if he/she hasn’t mastered application, at least prompting teaching staff will be a great start.
- If your child will be taking packed lunch to school, practice with it at home. Help your child learn how to open and close the lunch box and open their drink bottle – this will reduce the likelihood of other helpful little hands getting involved with doing this in school. We’ve opted for the Bentgo box for Osh and he’s using it really comfortably now.
- Encourage your child to look out for spills and let a grown-up know so that they can be cleaned away. This can help avoid accidental exposure and of course non-allergy related accidents.
Buy/get uniform ready: If, like us, your child has severe eczema, then you’ll be on the lookout for 100% cotton uniform options. For shirts/polo shirts, most are 100% cotton anyway, but for trousers/shorts and skirts, this seems to be a tall order. Try M&S, John Lewis, Gap Kids online for some limited options or specialist online retailers such as Everything for Eczema or Eco Outfitters. Unfortunately, as with most allergy- or eczema-friendly products, you will more than likely pay more than you would for the “normal” options.
Sort a lunchbox/snackbox: We like the Bentgo Box for the reasons outlined on my review, but there are so many options out there for lunchboxes that clip together securely and therefore reduce the risk of cross contamination/leaks. We have also bought some rollup/foldable silicon mats for Osh to put underneath his lunchbox, as an additional barrier in case of crumbs on the table.
Label everything: Of course a trusty marker will do, but if you’re looking for something a bit nicer, we like Stuck on You.
Medical ID: Osh’s school suggested we provide a badge for Osh to wear at school to show he has allergies, but we felt this was too much of a label that might make him feel even more ‘different’ than he already does when compared to his classmates. Instead, I have decided to opt for personalised wristbands (he has too many allergies to fit on just one band!) and I’ve opted to use the double-sided version from TheIDBandCompany.
Treat box: Put in lots of your child’s fave (non-perishable) treats so that he/she doesn’t feel left out if treat’s are dished out in class for some reason. We love IQChocolate as it’s free of all 14 allergens and there is a range of yummy flavours. Freedom Mallows are also a good option, but bags are large so would suggest decanting into small sealed snack bags before sending in to school! Giant Love Hearts are also Osh-friendly (i.e. free from dairy, soya, wheat, nuts, egg, lentils, peas, buckwheat) so a good addition.
Craft box: You might want to include paints, paintbrushes, home-made/allergy-friendly play-dough, wheat-free dried pasta, empty free-from cereal boxes, old clean pieces of cardboard and kitchen roll tubes. I also like referring to this resource which was published by Kids with Food Allergies, a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and I will be providing a copy to Osh’s teacher at the start of term.
Medicine bag/box: I’ve reviewed our chosen bag in an earlier post but there is no need to spend lots of money on something. A clear Tupperware/storage box, which your child’s photograph, name and allergies/other conditions clearly marked on it will do just as well.
Letter to parents of classmates: See my post on Questions for your child’s school for information on where to find a great example.
Hopefully all of the above will help you feel in control and less anxious about your child starting school. If you have any suggestions for additional things that help things go smoothly, please let me know by commenting below.