Once you start realizing how pervasive gluten is, you start seeing it everywhere. But what about the places you may not have thought of? When it comes to parenting gluten free kids, the anxiety can get overwhelming. But sometimes it helps as well. So is there gluten in the classroom?
Classrooms have gluten in a few different forms. Gluten free kids, their parents, and their teachers should all be aware of where they are. The level of concern varies depending on the source. It can also depend on the reason for being gluten free, the sensitivity level, whether they have developmental disabilities, and how their reaction manifests.
Is There Gluten In The Classroom?
Simply: Yes. Some common classroom supplies contain gluten. But all of them have simple alternatives to keep kids with Celiac Disease, wheat allergy, and other gluten free needs safe.
Supplies In Classrooms Contain Gluten
Unfortunately, the reality is that gluten exists in classrooms. The important thing is to become aware of where it is, assess what it means for your child, and figure out how to deal with it in the best way for your family.
The first step to take is contacting your child’s teacher(s) they can help you figure out what supplies they use in class may contain gluten and come up with a plan to keep your child safe. More on this later on.
In order to equip you the best in this conversation, here is a list of different places you may find gluten in the classroom. These are going to depend on age and grade of course. However, there are some risks to be careful of even for those older celiac and gluten free kids in high school.
PlayDough – The brand name and most of the alternative brands contain gluten. It is commonly made at home using wheat flour (also called salt dough). Some teachers will even make this in class with the students.
Pasta Art – This is a classic project in the younger grades, but even older art classes may use multimedia art which could include a number of different supplies. Be sure to ask art teachers if they are planning on using noodles or pasta.
Paper Mache – This is made by cutting up strips of newspaper and dipping them in a slurry of water and wheat flour. As such, it contains gluten. This can be an easy one to overlook and forget about for both parents and teachers.
Sensory Bins – These can contain a number of different products. However, if they contain pasta or gluten containing grains (wheat, rye, barley, or oats) you should make alternative arrangements.
Flour – While this is an obvious one to list, it can get overlooked. Things made with flour can be cloud dough, play dough, paper mache, or any cooking demonstration. It is frequently used in science experiments or art projects.
Art Paste – Some types of art paste contain gluten.
Finger Paint – Many types of finger paint contain gluten. Most brands will have information on their websites or can be emailed for the information.
Counting Activities – When kids are learning to count it can be fun to give them different types of food to count. Many times these will include gluten-containing ingredients such as pasta.
Do I Need To Worry About Gluten In The Classroom?
Before we get into the one for one replacements of these classroom supplies, we need to look at if we need to replace them. Now that you know the places there will be gluten in the classroom, you can assess how much of a problem it is for your child.
Environmental gluten is a little controversial. Some families do not worry about gluten unless it will be ingested, other families have experienced full gluten symptoms or know their children get rashes from touching it. You need to decide for your family what is needed.
Especially for children with developmental disabilities and young children in general, environmental gluten can be dangerous. This is because children tend to put their hands in their mouths without washing their hands. Some neurodivergent children put objects in their mouths. This can lead to gluten exposure.
How To Replace Gluten Supplies In The Classroom
You need to make the decision on whether you need to worry about replacing the gluten or if you can make sure handwashing takes place and contamination is kept at bay. For those looking for replacements, there are lots of options!
PlayDough – There are many brands that can be easily replaced. I’ve personally used SoyDough and I highly recommend it. The texture was perfect. You can actually purchase the PlayDough accessories and use them with gluten free PlayDough. If they have been used before a good cleaning should be fine.
Pasta Art – This is an easy one. Gluten free pasta is abundant. It may be expensive to provide for the whole class, but it should be easy to do for only the gluten free kids. There are inexpensive gluten free pasta brands or going to an outlet store or shopping sales can be helpful.
Paper Mache – This one can be a little more complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Paper Mache can still be made with gluten free flour. In fact, starches work fabulously. Try tapioca, potato, or corn to replace wheat flour.
Sensory Bins – There are plenty of things that are gluten free that make great sensory bins. Try different types of beans, rice, gluten free pasta, water beads, and more! Cloud dough can easily be made with rice flour as well.
Flour – This is probably the biggest concern on the list. Flour gets into the air and can cause gluten free, Celiac, and wheat allergy kids a lot of grief. Teachers should always check with families before doing something with wheat flour. Depending on the project there are a few different things that can be done. The teacher can make the dough or start the project before class and in a different location so there is no risk of airborne gluten. Another option is to substitute gluten free flour blend. The best solution for the project will depend on how the flour is getting used.
Art Paste – Try using Elmer’s Glue instead. Or other brand that is gluten free.
Finger Paint – Look at the website or contact the company to make sure the finger paint is gluten free. Many tempura paints are gluten free and safe to use as finger paints.
Counting Activities – Use non-gluten-containing items for counting. Such as gluten free pasta, beans, and rice. However, the best things are usually nonfood! Try bows, beads, and other art supplies.
What Other Gluten Is In The Classroom Besides Class Supplies?
Besides strictly supplies in the classroom, there are many other places to be cautious of gluten. Teachers should be made aware of these situations and a solution should be reached together.
Science Experiments – This goes for all ages. Science teachers should be aware of any sensitive students in classes and provide an alternative. Usually working closely between parents and teachers is best.
Lunch – Students should always have access to wash hands before lunch not simply use hand sanitizer. They need to be able to wash potential gluten off their hands before eating. Gluten is not a germ and will not be affected by hand sanitizer.
Parties – Parents should be notified ahead of time for any food related activity. They can provide suitable alternatives for their children. I highly recommend that parents provide a safe alternative to cake for a last minute birthday cupcakes a parent might drop off. Sometimes the teacher does not get enough notice to notify parents.
Activities – Especially for the older kids, there can be any number of activities that contain gluten. For example in history class an activity to make “hard tack”. This is why parents and teachers need to write 504 or IEP plans together and be in constant contact.
Keeping Gluten Free Kids Safe In Classrooms Can Be Daunting
It can be intimidating reading all the places you may find gluten in classrooms and in places you may never have thought of.
After awhile I promise you that it gets second nature. There are replacements for just about everything gluten free. As time goes on, there are even more gluten free options being made all the time.
The most important thing you can do is to be aware of places you may find gluten. This goes for both parents and teachers. And then to work together to ensure that gluten free children are being kept safe.