The Play-Doh ‘cookie’

In WebWatch we often report on new research relevant for our sector. Last week a post focussing on new research out of the USA generated a great deal of discussion. The research relayed in WebWatch issue 323 focussed on a USA study analysing the use of Play-Doh containing gluten for children who have coeliac disease or are gluten intolerant—to read an article about the research click here.

For many, this was a great piece of research as it highlighted that simply touching Play-Doh was unlikely to cause harm for these children—as long as they washed their hands before eating. Central to the title of the research was the need to ensure that children with coeliac disease or intolerances to gluten did not eat the Play-Doh; however, this can be challenging in practice, particularly with younger children.

This post raises a timely reminder for our sector and those of us who work with, and care for children experiencing challenges with gluten. An early childhood educator and mother of a child with coeliac disease, has written the below article sharing her insights.

As an early childhood teacher and mother of a child with coeliac disease the article posted recently in WebWatch was of great interest to me. I began to reflect on my experience sending my newly diagnosed four-year-old to preschool.

Before my daughter started preschool, I approached the service to discuss her condition. I soon discovered that her educators had no previous experience caring for a child with coeliac disease. This was not surprising given only 1% of the population have this condition. Following some research and advice from Coeliac Australia, it was agreed that my daughter should be directed to wash her hands after playing with Play-Doh and would not be allowed to put the Play-Doh in her mouth. I supplied her daily meals and gluten free cupcakes to be used as a cake substitute when birthdays rolled around. I also regularly reminded my daughter of the rules when she played with Play-Doh—don’t eat it and wash hands after playing with it. In essence, we followed the advice suggested in the aforementioned article.

My daughter loved preschool and throughout her time there she was generally very happy and healthy. On several occasions when she was unwell and vomiting I assumed she had caught a virus, however, I now know that this sudden onset of vomiting accompanied by the absence of any other viral symptoms such as an elevated temperature is her reaction to consuming gluten. Despite what I thought were sufficient strategies in place to avoid my daughter’s exposure to gluten it became apparent that, although developing in accordance with her age, she was just not mature enough to resist the temptation of a Play-Doh ‘cookie’.

As I reflect on my daughter’s preschool time spent at the Play-Doh table it saddens me to think of the damage this has caused to her small intestine. The short-term symptoms of vomiting are long since forgotten but the potential long-term damage is yet to distinguished. I wonder how the results of this USA study—carried out with 30 children averaging eight years old—can be relied upon to inform our practices while working with children aged birth to five years. A child who is eight may be relied upon to thoroughly wash their hands after playing with gluten contaminating materials, but we cannot rely on a child five years of age and under to take this same level of responsibility.

Professional learning and reading is a great opportunity to think critically about the application of the relevant work within our context. This is at the heart of reflective practice and we thank this educator for articulating this.

Reflective questions:

  1. How to do ensure children suffering from intolerances/allergies within your service are not consuming allergens?
  2. What are your top three practice tips to minimise allergen exposure at your service?
  3. Do you use Play-Doh at your service? If not why?

More information on this topic:

When allergy awareness gets personal by Dr Kate Highfield

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Early Childhood Australia

Early Childhood Australia (ECA) has been a voice for young children since 1938. We are the peak early childhood advocacy organisation, acting in the interests of young children, their families and those in the early childhood field. ECA advocates to ensure quality, social justice and equity in all issues relating to the education and care of children aged birth to eight years.

One thought on “The Play-Doh ‘cookie’”

    Helen says:

    A child with multiple allergies, including gluten and corn attends our service. Corn products are used in many products, so we had her Mum do a complete audit of supplies before she started. We decided the gluten playdough, with hand washing after play, would be ok but it wasn’t, because the child was well aware that it was not ‘friendly’ and she did not go near it. That is not truly inclusive. So we make rice flour and arrowroot dough, with coconut oil in it too. It is for everyone to use, and we love it.

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