Parents of young kids with T1D know that sweaty palm, nervous gut feeling of leaving their child with someone new, especially someone new to diabetes. Handing over the diabetes equipment means handing over trust of your child’s consciousness, and over time, his or her long term health. It’s never easy to do this, but for two years, we worked with two amazing preschool teachers who share their experiences of learning about Type 1 and managing it in a preschool classroom. “When Type 1 Knocks on Preschool’s Door” is by Jessie Blohm.
It has been two years since diabetes knocked on the classroom door. Two years ago we were, admittedly, afraid and unknowledgeable. Two years ago, I could have told you the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 only by way of saying that Type 2 was the kind that elderly people can develop and a result of the obesity epidemic. Other than that, I had no idea what the difference was or how much we would learn in two short years.
Insulin, units, blood glucose (BG), meter, lancet, pump, bolus, combo bolus, pre-bolus, etc…the language alone was enough to make my head spin. How were we going to learn all of this in one week, so that we could keep Henry safe at school? It didn’t matter how, it just mattered that we would. A couple evenings of reading The First Book for Understanding Diabetes and a crash course in testing with the meter and we were on our way. Well, not quite that easily, but it did happen that quickly.
I believe that there were 4 key factors that made Henry’s time in our classroom so successful and relatively stress free for his parents.
#1. Caring and attentive parents
Henry’s parents were willing to meet with teachers before the start of school with step by step handouts, powerpoint, scales, cheat sheets— anything and everything they could think of to inform two lead teachers and a handful of college students on how to best care for their son. Rachel and Matt were able to answer questions when we had them, walk us through as new situations like priming the pump or delivering a combo bolus arose. They stressed the importance of realizing that there was no “normal” situation when “managing” diabetes and that so many factors play in to Henry’s numbers on any given day. They gave us a list of our typical snack foods as well as the portion sizes and carb counts, taught us how to weigh foods for lunch, and count carbs in each serving size. We used those cheat sheets religiously and by the end, we were able to take a cooking activity for the classroom, modify the ingredients slightly, and figure out how many carbs were in it so that we could give Henry the correct amount of insulin and most importantly, that he was able to participate in the same activity that the rest of the children were.
#2. Lots of checking…and double checking, and sometimes even triple checking
Before going outside for large motor, “Henry, let’s check you.” While at group, “Anna, will you check the CGM?” While getting ready for lunchtime, “Lexie, will you text Rachel and Matt to check if that amount of insulin sounds correct, it seems high.” Preparing for a center time cooking activity, “Double check my math on this portion size for the cooking activity, do you get the same numbers that I do?” The CGM needs calibrated, “Two different checks (pokes) this time, Henry.” In the beginning, this was a complete tag team effort between us as co-teachers, standing shoulder to shoulder at the counter as we figured the carbs for his lunch/snack/activity. After two years, it was like a well choreographed dance, we were able to have a quick conversation about his numbers that day, make a guess on how lunch/snack/activity would effect his blood glucose, and move between the different roles as lead teacher/lead caregiver with ease….but it took a lot of “checks” to get us there.
It had to have taken an amazing amount of trust on Henry’s parents behalf to hand over his backpack each day and trust that we were going to stay on top of his numbers, catching any highs or lows from a new breakfast food, our lunch menu, and his activity level. Trust in our student staff and their training when we were out of the room or in a meeting. Trust in the CGM in order to avoid an unnecessary finger poke. Trust in the Dexcom app and knowing that there were 4 sets of eyes randomly checking his numbers throughout the day and sending a precautionary text to whomever was with Henry (teacher/staff), just in case they hadn’t caught it.
In our classroom, we call everyone “friends” and we work hard to promote acceptance, resilience, and kindness. After diabetes knocked on the classroom door, we had a new topic to cover. Sugar. Much like we begin every school year creating that classroom community, we hit all of our usual likes/dislikes, how we all are the same and how we are different, etc. It was decided that we all liked sweet treats and we all understood that too many sweet treats would give us a tummy ache. However, for Henry, his body needed help with the sugar and he had to wear the pump so that it would keep giving him medicine in order to be safe. The children were so accepting of this! They would occasionally take an interest in watching us check Henry’s BG, ask an occasional question, or tell us they heard a beep from the pump, but more often than not, they didn’t even notice anything different! Henry was resilient, could go wash his hands, check his BG quickly, and return to his play with little interference, it was just accepted as part of the classroom routine and community. In all honesty, acceptance, resilience, and kindness are probably the best qualities in young children, and the rest of the class made it easy. I only hope and pray that the rest of Henry’s years of school are equally as accepting and kind to him.
Jessie Blohm is a teacher and a mother, holding her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Northern Iowa, while earning her Mother of 3 degree at home in her partially remodeled farmhouse in Reinbeck, IA. She lets her kids run barefoot and would rather pick weeds in the garden and drive kids to soccer practice than cook any day.