When Stacy’s 7-year-old daughter Jennifer was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years ago, she was often asked by classmates what diabetes was and whether they could catch it. “The kids were confused, and even scared,” recalls Stacy. “It broke my heart when Jennifer was left out by other children simply because they didn’t understand what type 1 was.” Jennifer’s teacher asked Stacy to come into the classroom to educate the other students, but Stacy didn’t want to bore them with a long, technical speech. “My daughter’s doctor suggested I play games with the kids to capture their attention and hold their interest,” she said. “Now I visit her class at the beginning of each new school year to educate the children and answer any questions they might have. It really helps!”
Like the idea but don’t know any games? Shelley Yeager, M.A., L.C.S.W., director of outreach and development at the Diabetes Education & Camping Association, shares a few of her favorites.
Age Range: All
Materials Needed: Bingo cards (7″ x 9″ blank poster board with a 5″ x 6″ grid drawn), pictures of various food items (two per food), index cards and a bag or basket to hold them, Bingo chips
Set-Up: Create individual Bingo cards. In place of the letters B-I-N-G-O in the top row, write the food groups “Grains,” “Fruits,” “Fats,” “Protein,” and “Dairy.” Randomly glue the pictures of individual food items in the appropriate columns on each card. (Be sure to have more foods than will fit on a single card or everyone will get Bingo at the same time.) Each food item used on the cards is also put on a single index card with the name of the food group it belongs to.
Introduction: Explain to the students that different foods belong to different food groups. Discuss why it’s important to understand what category a food belongs to, especially for people with type 1 diabetes.
Play: Hand out a Bingo card and a handful of Bingo chips to each student. One at a time, have them draw index cards from the bag or basket and call out the name of the food item and which food group it belongs to. If a player has the food on her card, she places a chip over it. The winner is the first to get five chips in a row, either by column, row, or diagonally (or you can play until someone completely covers their card in chips). The winner must call back his/her winning spaces in order to win.
Afterward: Go over the basics of carb-counting and ask the class: How does knowing which foods fit into which food groups help a person living with diabetes?
Chuck the Chicken
Age Range: 8 and up
Materials Needed: Rubber chicken (or some other object that can be thrown)
Introduction: Give students a lesson introducing the relationship between activity level and blood sugar control. Topics might include: How does activity affect blood sugar levels? How does food play a role? Can children with type 1 diabetes do all the same sports and activities that other children can? What do they need to consider before being active?
Set-Up: Divide students evenly into two teams. Tell them to pretend that each team’s blood sugar reading is 200 mg/dL (i.e., higher than normal), then give them the challenge of lowering it. In this game, a team’s blood sugar level is decreased by one point for each time a team member runs around their entire group. Tell them what a normal blood sugar range is, and ask them to decide on a number within that range to shoot for.
Play: One team begins with the rubber chicken. That team tosses the rubber chicken away from the groups and proceeds to huddle together into a tight pack. One team member begins to run around the entire group. Every complete circle that team member makes lowers the group’s blood sugar level by one point. Meanwhile, the other team chases the chicken, forms a single-file line and passes the chicken, over-under style, until it reaches the end of the line. Once it reaches the end of the line, the team yells “Chuck the Chicken” and proceeds to throw the chicken away from the groups. The other team stops counting points and proceeds to chase the chicken. The game ends when one team reaches the chosen blood sugar level.
Afterward: Discuss the importance of being active. Have players discuss the challenges they had during the game. How might these challenges represent challenges people face when being active while living with type 1 diabetes?
Age Range: All
Materials Needed: Plate of food, bandanas or pieces of cloth (one for each student) in five colors that kids can tie on clothing to create food-group teams (for instance, green: vegetables, red: protein, yellow: carbohydrate, blue: fruit, purple: candy/empty calories)
Introduction: Explain the concept of balanced meals: While children with type 1 diabetes count carbohydrates to make sure they take the right amount of insulin, it’s also important for them (and everyone) to eat a balanced amount of each food group. Have players interactively discuss balanced breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack choices by giving examples of what they eat at home. If they give an example that might include “empty” calories, do not reprimand — rather, encourage a better choice for healthier eating.
Set-Up: Distribute equal numbers of colored bandanas to players and ask them to tie them on to signify their “team.” Explain that teams correspond to food groups. Place chairs in a large circle, one chair per player, minus one for person in the center who is “It.” Have all the players sit in chairs, except for the “empty calorie” players who should lie on floor in the center of the circle.
Play: The player who is “It” calls a type of food (for example, banana or hamburger or lettuce). The players who represent the food group that the item belongs to race across the circle to a different chair without having the “empty calorie” players tag them, while the “It” player races for an empty chair as well. If they are tagged, they’re out, and their chairs are removed. The new “It” is the player who did not find a seat in time, but did not get tagged. If players from the wrong food group participate during the round, they’re also out.
The player who is “It” can also call out “food fight,” at which point all players must participate in the round.
Afterward: Discuss the importance of healthy eating and balanced meals where all food groups are included — after all, wasn’t it the most fun when all the foods in the circle got to play at once? Talk about how in addition to food, physical activity (like this game) also affects blood sugar. Discuss “empty calorie” foods and the effect they have on blood sugar, as well as how they should be consumed sparingly since they don’t offer many nutrients.
Kids learn through play. Once they have a crack at these educational games, they’ll have a better idea of what type 1 diabetes is all about and a deeper understanding of what their classmate does to take care of him- or herself every day. Talk about a win-win!
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.
More school-time topics:
Connect With the Class: Celebrities With Type 1 Diabetes
Easy, Carb-Counted Weeknight Recipes
The 504 Plan: Set Up Your Child for School Year Success
School Sports: How to Talk to the Coach About Type 1 Diabetes