Have you ever thought about how your child learns best?
Maybe your child has been lucky enough to have a teacher that identifies learning styles and preferences. Or maybe you've been able to identify it yourself. If so, that's great information to keep handy and incorporate into food allergy education sessions. If not, check out the links at the end of this post for additional information on identifying learning styles.
The 4 basic learning styles that have been identified are:
Now, let's think about how we typically educate our kids about food allergies. Many either use books or talking to explain to kids how to keep themselves safe. Both are great methods to convey information of course, but what are other ways we can educate kids on these topics - alternative ways that may align better for those kids who learn best via different methods? Below are food allergy education ideas, one for each type of learning style....
Role Playing (great for kinesthetic learners)
In addition to reading or talking about various food allergy scenarios, consider role playing or acting them out. Have your child role play as themselves first, so that they get the chance to think about how they would handle the situation as it's happening. Then switch roles so that you are your child. You might even want to intentionally handle the situation poorly, which gives your child the ability to see how not to navigate it. After you've both taken turns and given feedback, try the same scenario again, adjusting based on the feedback. If they're really into it, role-play additional scenarios. (Check out these great tips for parents on how to set up and teach about role playing).
Example scenario: Eating out at a restaurant
Role Playing Method: Set up a mock restaurant at home, which adds an extra layer of fun. Maybe even get the whole family involved, with another sibling acting as the waiter. Let your child look at an online menu from a restaurant you actually visit or hope to go to, and have them try ordering their meal. Before switching roles, talk about what went well and what might need to be tweaked if you were actually going out to eat. Then when it's your turn, intentionally "mess up", perhaps by forgetting to tell the waiter about your allergy or not asking to talk to the manager. When you talk about how that round went, encourage your child to identify areas where you could have done better. By acting out the scenario and then watching you act it out, it adds a variety of different "doing" ways of learning for your child.
Music/Songs (great for auditory learners)
Do you have a little Beethoven on your hands, always singing and dancing around? Do they know all of the words to the songs from the latest Disney movies or the top 10 songs on the radio today? You've likely got an auditory learner on your hands. In that case, seek out food allergy songs, such as Kyle Dine's catchy tunes. Even better, create your own songs and lyrics together!
Example Scenario: Navigating snack time at school
Music and Songs Method: It might feel daunting to try and come up with lyrics on the spot, so start by listing what your child needs to know about how to navigate this scenario. Next, start coming up with rhyming words to help get your creative juices flowing. What rhymes with snack? Pack, Jack, tack, crack....keep going. Listen to some music for inspiration or pick a tune to sing your song to. Have fun and be silly while teaching them all about food allergy safety. Before you know it, you'll both have the song stuck in your head! (Bonus points if you create a dance to go along with the song!)
Puzzle Time (great for tactual learners)
Have you ever seen those puzzles you can personalize either with photos or by writing on them? Consider buying some of these and either writing or drawing food allergy information on them. Jumble up the pieces after you've done that, and sit with your child and work together to put the puzzle together to uncover the food allergy message.
Example Scenario: What to do if they're having a reaction
Puzzle Time Method: On the blank puzzle, write the emergency action plan steps out in age-appropriate language (or draw them out for the very young kids). Once you've completed the puzzle, discuss each step. If your child also likes to learn by doing, you can then role play a reaction scenario, again, switching roles so your child gets practice being himself as well as seeing how others might navigate it - and then of course, discuss.
Writing Stories (great for visual learners)
If your child learns best by seeing things, you could watch shows or movies that illustrate food allergy scenarios, talking afterwards about what was good or bad about how it was portrayed. Another option is creating a story together. Break out the crayons, colored pencils, and stencils. Come up with a character, a plot, and something that goes wrong for the character to navigate. Or perhaps you and your child can write a story for kids younger than them to help educate them about food allergies, since you've already navigated that phase.
Example Scenario: What foods your child is allergic to
Writing Stories Method: Talk about what foods your child is allergic to, including what common foods the allergens are often an ingredient of. Choose whether the book will be a fiction or non-fiction book. Decide on the details together. Get creative with the illustrations - draw them, cut pictures out of magazines, print them out from websites, etc. Maybe your story is even one in a series of stories!
No matter what methods you use to teach your kiddo about their food allergy, don't forget to also teach them that they have choices in many situations. Choices on how to navigate (or exit) the situation. Choices on how to think about various scenarios. Empowerment should always be a part of all food allergy education, a statement which JJ, aka The Land of Can creator, so perfectly shares: