Getting the Volunteer Hours
Every internship site I have looked at requires volunteer hours, with both sick and healthy children. From my research into the field, I know that volunteer experience can set you apart from other students who are competing for the same practicum, internship or job. I thought that I would put together a quick list of some volunteer opportunities that can be applied to Child Life. While not all these would be under the supervision of a CCLS, which many hospitals require, they can be good addictions to your experience under a CCLS.
Hospitals are the obvious first choice for volunteer experience. If you have a hospital near you with a Chidl Life department, you can probably get experience under a CCLS. This is important because internship sites want to see that you already have an understanding of the work of Child Life Specialists. If you don’t have a pediatric hospital near you, don’t fret. Many hospitals employ child life specialists for their pediatric wing or for the children of their adult patients who might be nearing the end of their life. Reach out to the volunteer department and see what opportunities they have. Even if you don’t have a Child Life Specialist at your hospital, you can still get valuable experience. I spent a summer in the ER of my local hospital. Although I did not see many pediatric patients, I did gain an understanding of the hospital. I learned medical lingo, the organization of the ER and I gained firsthand experience interacting with patients. These are all skills that can later be applied to a pediatric setting. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t volunteer with a Child Life Specialist immediately, just volunteering in a hospital can be helpful.
Child Advocacy Centers
Not all Child Advocacy Centers employ Child Life Specialists, so you might not be able to be under Child Life Supervision here but you can get experience working with children. At the advocacy center where I volunteer, my role is to play with patients in the waiting room while they are waiting for their appointment and also while their parent or caregiver is speaking with others adults (medical staff, social workers, advocates and police) in a separate room. The purpose of encouraging play in the waiting room is to normalize the experience for the children who are typically there because of alleged abuse or neglect. This idea of normalization is an important aspect to Child Life’s role in the hospital. The hospital is a scary place and Child Life tries to provide normalization through play and other expressive therapies. Volunteering at an advocacy center can be related because of the expereince of providing developmentally appropriate play and also normalization for children who have gone through something that no child should have to go through.
There a couple foundations that organize events or support for children with special health concerns. The Starlight Foundation organizes local events that you can join. These are only single events, but it demonstrates your dedication to a certain population and also to the field of Child Life. Make-A-Wish also has a bunch of volunteer opportunities, both local and national. This too can show your passion for helping sick children.
Therapeutic Horseback Riding
These opportunities aren’t as easy to find because there is no one site that you can visit to find all the options in your area. But I just googled “Therapeutic Horseback riding near _____” and I was able to find a couple stables that offered therapeutic horseback riding. Horseback riding is so therapeutic because it is the closest thing to a human gait. So for kids who can’t walk or can’t walk very well, it can be very soothing to ride a horse and feel the gait that an experienced skilled walker would feel naturally. If you do volunteer at a stable, try to focus your time on helping the riders. This experience will be more applicable to Child Life then caring for the horses.
Local Sexual Assault Service Providers and Domestic Violence Shelters often have childcare on site. Helping out at their childcare is not only experience working with children, but also children who are more in need of socioemotional support than other populations of children. Volunteering with the adults can also provide skills that can be transferred to working with children. When working with survivors of violence, in particular sexual assault and domestic violence, the most important thing is to support them. This is usually done by reflecting and validating their experiences and feelings. Reflecting and validating are powerful tools used to help people process and express their emotions. These tools can easily be transferred to children.
Leading sports teams is more than just being physically active and winning games. For kids, is also about developing teamwork and self-esteem. Not only will volunteering with sports teams give you experience working with children, but you can also explain in interviews that you have experience “encouraging children to be the best they can be.” During a stay in the hospital, it can be easy to become discouraged and disillusioned. You come in expecting the hospital to make you all better and there are often many complications. Coaching experience can come in handy as you support children in their journey to recovery. My experience is in martial arts, which I have found especially helpful. Martial arts focus on physicality, discipline, breathing. My school also placed an emphasis on self-esteem and reaching for the stars. These are all skills that I have been able to not only apply to Child Life but also to every interaction I have with kids.
Babysitting and nannying are obviously applicable to Child life. You gain an increased understanding of children, their behavior at different development levels and these jobs demonstrate your love for children. Don’t be afraid to put these on your resume and mention not only that you have babysat or nannyed, but also how you think they have helped prepare you for a Child Life practicum/internship/job.
Education (Early, Elementary and Special)
Experience in the education field not only demonstrated your passion and desire to work with children, but also that you have an understanding of development. Through teaching, you also gain practice in developing and executing activities for kids with a goal in mind (lessons or expression). You also learn very well how to manage a group of children, aka classroom management. This is helpful when working a playroom or leading group play sessions.
Summer camps are great because they not only provide experience, but they are short term volunteer opportunities. I have encountered many places that require a six month or more commitment. If you are traveling during the summer, going to school out of state or holding down a full time job, extended commitment might be hard. Summer camps can be either a week long or the whole summer. Some are paid, but more are unpaid. While summer camps with healthy kids will be good for a resume, I highly recommend looking for camps for kids with special health concerns. There are grief and bereavement camps, camps for kids with chronic illnesses and special needs camps. Click here for a great blog post about summer camp ideas.
Don’t stress if you don’t have extensive Child Life specific experience, you probably have a lot of experience that can be applied to Child Life. The trick is in the presentation. Don’t just mention your experience, but also explain what you learned and how you think it can be applied to Child Life. By working hard and taking advantage of every opportunity that is presented, you demonstrated that Child Life is important to you and you will work as hard as you have to in order to achieve certification and eventually a job.