Hatching chicks at school is a popular learning activity, especially for younger children in primary school. But what if your child is allergic to eggs? Can they join in the fun if the class is hatching eggs under an incubator? Many parents have valid concerns about egg allergy and hatching chicks at school. I was one of them.
I remember when my child came home from school in year 3 and excitedly told me that they had eggs and chicks in the classroom. With a serious egg allergy (to both egg white and egg yolk) plus an allergy to feathers , I wasn’t impressed that no-one had warned us in advance. My first thoughts were that this was a bad idea. However, I put aside my emotion and did some research. I wanted to go in to school the next morning with a sensible plan. Being armed with proper information makes all the difference when you don’t want to be labelled as the over-reacting allergy-parent.
And I discovered that with a bit of planning, there is usually no reason why your egg allergic child can’t enjoy this experience too.
Why hatch chicks at school?
Depending on the age of the students, schools use the experience of hatching chicks in the classroom for a variety of learning opportunities. Children can learn about:
- science in every day life;
- the lifecycle of chickens;
- caring for living things;
- sustainability; and
- food production.
It’s also very exciting to watch the eggs start to crack and the new chicks hatch. Chicks that are a few days old are adorably cute and fluffy. Most children love the experience.
When schools organise a chick hatching activity, an external supplier will usual supply some already hatched chicks and an incubator with some eggs that are almost ready to hatch. This is set up with a clear sided pen for the children to safely watch the excitement. Food, water and bedding is also provided as well as a heat lamp to keep the chicks warm.
What is the actual risk to children with egg allergies?
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia notes that watching chicks hatch in an incubator is usually safe for most children with egg allergy. However there can be more risk if the students are going to be holding the chicks. See A&AA’s handy fact sheet Chickens in the Classroom for more information.
When chicks hatch, there will obviously be broken eggs with wet egg content. The chicks too will have wet feathers from residual egg. There may also be egg content around the incubator. Children with egg allergy should not hold newly hatched chicks or handle any part of the broken eggs, or touch any areas where the eggs have hatched.
If your child would like to hold a chick, they should only hold one that is more than a day old and which has no wet feathers. It’s best to wear gloves just to be extra careful.
Every child should wash their hands thoroughly after touching the chickens or their enclosure.
If you have a child with egg allergy and have concerns about the risks of hatching chicks in school, speak to their allergy specialist or doctor about your child’s own individual risk. Egg allergies can vary in seriousness and your child might be particularly sensitive. Your allergist is the best person to advise.
Talk to the school
If you know that your child’s school is planning to hatch chicks in the classroom, or like me you find out after the fact, don’t panic. Instead:
- Make a time to talk to your child’s teacher.
- Give them a copy of the really helpful information sheet available from Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia – Chickens in the Classroom.
- After explaining the risks, let your teacher know how much you would like your child to be involved. If you are very concerned, you might just want your child to watch and not touch the chicks at all. Or if after speaking to your child’s allergist you believe there is more risk, you could ask for the chicks to be kept in a different room away from your child’s home class.
- Emphasize how important it is for everyone in the class to wash their hands after handling the chicks.
- Explain to your child about why they shouldn’t hold the very newly hatched chicks, but they can carefully hold one that is a few days old if that is something you are comfortable with. They should wear gloves to be careful.
- Offer to help supervise: handling the chicks often happens first thing in the morning before class, so perhaps you can stay and help when you drop off your child.
- As always, make sure that your child’s emergency allergy medication is readily available with a copy of your child’s allergy action plan just in case.
Your child with egg allergy doesn’t necessarily need to miss out on this enjoyable activity altogether. The excitement of watching a chick hatch or coming into the classroom in the morning to see if their are any new arrivals is something everyone can do without touching.
On the up side…
I am pleased to say that my egg allergic child thoroughly enjoyed hatching chicks at school and managed to join in safely with no reactions at all. And yes, held a chick too.
There is another positive side to the story. At the end of the week when all the chicks have hatched, a lot of school programs will ask if anyone in the class would like to adopt some chicks and take them home to raise. For families with egg allergies, this can be a great excuse to say no when your child wants to bring home the adorable fluffy chicks!
More about managing egg allergy
For more ways to keep your child with allergies safe at school, make sure to have a look at our posts about:
- the Allergy Pal app, a fantastic tool for storing and sharing allergy and emergency first aid information;
- the best allergy stickers for school and home; and
- EpiPen bag tags and key chains to help people locate your child’s autoinjector in an emergency.
And if your child has an egg allergy don’t forget to check out some of our delicious egg-free recipes, including our easiest ever allergy friendly pancakes and super simple allergy-friendly sausage rolls.