This year I have a student with a laundry list of food allergies, some of which are drastic enough that he has an Epi Pen. And as if it’s not hard enough for a child of typical development to self-manage his/her food allergies, this little guy has developmental delays that made me worry I’d have to watch him like a hawk. Turns out he’s quite able to self-manage and speaks up very nicely when there are snacks or treats to let people know he has allergies. He can rattle off the different foods he’s allergic to and has been known to say, for example, “I don’t think I can have that. It probably has eggs.” His medical plan requires us to check with his mom before feeding him anything other than what she sends in, and it works quite nicely now that we clearly understand the allergies.
Cooking projects can be tricky. But I found out yesterday exactly how much they benefit students with food allergies, even when they can’t eat the end result. We had read “Bread and Jam for Frances” this week and the book always makes me crave bread and jam, of course. So I brought my bread maker in to class at the end of the week and we made bread. The recipe I use is really simple and has just five ingredients: water, olive oil, salt, flour and yeast. And as you can imagine, my little guy is allergic to one of the ingredients. Yeast. But he was involved in the discussion about the order the ingredients go in the machine, that the salt went in with the liquid ingredients and never touching the yeast because if they touch too soon, the yeast will be deactivated. Which is when it occurred to me that he had never seen yeast, that it was probably an abstract idea that he had never been able to visualize.
So we stopped and examined the yeast I had measured into a baggy to bring to school. The students commented on the shape, tiny little balls, and the color, grayish brown, and the fact that just a small amount was enough to make an entire loaf of bread rise. The kids were all interested, not just the one with the allergy. It was worth the extra five minutes it added to the lesson.
Later on, as we were watching the bread maker churn for a few minutes before the dough would rest and rise, I asked the kids to verbally sequence the order the ingredients went into the machine. When we got to the last ingredient, the child I called on, who had raised his hand without really being sure he know the answer, could not think of what it was. The boy with the allergy whispered to himself, “It’s on my list!” and I saw him look to the door where I have a sign listing his allergies so everyone who works with him knows not to feed him. To help the others remember the ingredient, I had the boy with the allergy describe the ingredient to them without using the name. He did so beautifully and the whole while had a giant smile, exposing his irresistible dimple. Too cute!
What a learning experience for the whole group, but the best part was knowing that I had a chance to drive home the fact that a minute amount of an ingredient can provoke a bad reaction to give more concrete understanding to a little boy whose learning disabilities cause him to struggle with comprehension related to abstract concepts. And the bread and jam weren’t bad either.