Slow to Warm

Some patients are harder to connect with. Often they have the slow to warm temperament. During my time volunteering at a children’s hospital, one of the patients on my list was like this. The patient was a 12 y.o female and she was alone in the hospital so staff asked if I could bring some activities to her room. I grabbed connect four and a sand art project. We had sand art kits that were a mandala where you could remove the paper covering each section and add the sand. Below is a picture of these sand art kits, available from Oriental Trading.


When I went into this patient’s room and introduced myself, she responded very quietly. I could tell that she was shy. I showed her the sand art, but she didn’t make any motion to take it. I was always taught to let the kids do the project instead of doing it for them, but this particular patient didn’t seem to want to do the project. So I showed her how we remove the smaller piece of paper and then asked what color sand she would like to use. After she chose the sand, I demonstrated how we pour it on the project and it will stick to the part where we removed the paper. I then asked her to choose which section we should remove paper from next and she selected a small area. I removed that paper and encouraged her to pour the sand of choice on the section. We continued in these baby steps until eventually the patient was doing the project herself.

As I was guiding the patient, my goal was for her to do the project alone. When I left, I wanted her to continue to work on it so she wouldn’t be bored. I knew that I couldn’t do the whole project with her, she needed to take control. But because she was slow to warm, I had to be patient while she grew comfortable with me and comfortable doing the project herself. By the time I left, we had also played connect four and she had even smiled. This experience reminded me the importance of patience. As Child Life Specialists, and as student volunteers, our role is to provide a safe place for patients to grow and explore. Because this patient knew I would encourage and support her, not criticize if she didn’t do the craft right, she became comfortable enough to chat with me and enjoyed our time together.

Fabulous Find Friday: Wish Stories

Today’s Fabulous Find Friday is a little bit of inspiration. I’m sure all of you know about Make a Wish, but have you heard about wish stories? Earlier this week, one of my assignments for a class was to look at some of the wish stories from Make A Wish. These stories are so inspiring. Some children wish to be someone, they wish to go somewhere, they wish to have something, they wish to meet someone or they wish to give to others. Make A Wish posts these stories online and I highly recommend you read some of them. They will definitely brighten your day.

Make A Wish: Wish Stories

Interactive Schedule

Between working two jobs to save money for my Fall Child Life Internship and taking online classes as a part of UCSB’s Child Life Certificate Program, there has not been a lot of spare time for blogging this summer. But I did want to share with you all a project that I worked on this week.

As a part of my class Children with Special Needs in the Healthcare Setting, I developed an adaptive therapeutic intervention. I was assigned a 12 y.o patient that was developmentally functioning at about the level of a 9 y.o. Due to the many medical conditions that this patient had, they were in a wheelchair, used slings to hold their arms up due to a lack of strength and also had communication issues due to a trach. Medical play is hard for this patient and they have severe anxiety before procedures. My idea for an intervention was to make an interactive schedule that the patient could put together along with guidance from the staff.

The goals of this intervention were to provide a sense of predictability and stability regarding each week’s routine. By allowing the patient to make the schedule each week, it would also give them a sense of control over their days. The materials I used were a wooden dowel, magnets, printed and laminated images of emotions, procedures and rewards, and then a piece of poster board for the schedule. Below are images of my schedule and brief descriptions of each step.

The first thing I did was print off procedures, rewards and emotions. The procedures were ones that the patient frequently encountered (such as x-rays, blood draws, trach changes, etc). And then I also printed possible rewards. While the patient might not be able to choose which procedures happen on which day, they would be able to make the decision whether they would like to play with the IPAD or hear a story after an unwanted medical procedure. I felt it was important to print off emotions to enhance communication between staff and the patient. Because of the trach, staff struggled to understand this patient. By allowing the patient to display an emotion each day, the staff can better support and comfort them.


I printed these images on card stock paper, cut them out into little squares and then laminated them. After laminating the squares, I glued a small magnet to the back of them. This magnet would allow the squares to attach to the board and also made it possible for the patient to lift them. Because of the patient’s need for slings in order to hold their arms up, there is not a lot of mobility. But the patient would be able to hold the dowel and drag it to the square with a magnet on it. While the patient might not be able to attach the square to the board without help, they would be the one who would select the procedure/emotions/reward and bring it to the appropriate place on the board. Staff could then help remove the dowel from the laminated square.


The words I chose for the headings were very intentional. I chose to use “have” for the medical procedures because the patient doesn’t have a lot of choice about which ones will happen and when they will occur. I used “I would like to” for the rewards to emphasize that this decision was the patient’s. They chose what they would like to do after the procedure that they had to have done.

Stay tuned for most posts about the projects that I’ve done for my summer classes. I’ll share them as my free time allows.

Fabulous Find Friday: Comfort Kits

Guidepost Comfort Kits are created to brighten the lives of children who are hospitalized or undergoing medical treatments. The comfort kits include items that will help make the child’s stay a little easier. They have a stuffed toy, stress ball, stickers and a journal to remember each child’s unique situation. To learn more, check out this child life specialist’s post about the impact these kits can have for a hospitalized family: Bringing Comfort to Sick Kids



Fabulous Find Friday: “How to Help Children with a Parent’s Serious Illness.”

Today’s Fabulous Find Friday is a book recommendation, How to Help Children with a Parent’s Serious Illness by Kathleen McCue.

This is a great guide for parents who want to talk to their children, but it can also educate other professionals in the field who might encounter parents that are dying or their children. McCue offers practical advice for talking to children about a diagnosis and also how to support them through a loss. The book is divided into specific sections that are geared toward answering a particular question or focusing on a specific population. This allows the parent to go straight to the part of the book that might be most applicable to their situation. McCue not only draws on her years of experience from working with families that are undergoing loss, but she also includes real examples of families who have had similar experiences.


How to Help Children Through a Parent’s Serious Illness is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It is also available as an Ebook through Google Books.

“The aim is for your children to build a whole new repertoire of responses – safe, healthy ways of coping with the wrenching, abnormal situation of a parent’s grave illness. Whatever transpires now for you, the parents, you want your children to emerge whole, fulfilled, and ready for the rest of their lives.”

– Kathleen McCue


Fabulous Find Friday: Team IMPACT

Team Impact helps develop relationships between children battling illness and student athletes at colleges around the United States. Below is some information about them from their website;

What We DO

We improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses through the power of team.

We do this by drafting these courageous kids with local college athletic teams. Team IMPACT children are drafted onto the team and become an official member of the team from Draft Day through to Graduation. The child joins the athletic team and the student athletes join the child’s support team.

The child gains great strength, camaraderie and support and the student athletes are taught lessons about courage, resiliency and life perspective that they can’t learn in a classroom.

Through a structured relationship management methodology, we establish and cultivate these relationships to ensure a successful experience for the families and teams involved.

Our Vision

We believe that by focusing on the best experience for the child we can also significantly impact families, student athletes, colleges and communities. Over the next few years we will:

  • Increase the number of deserving children drafted onto athletic teams on every college campus
  • Broaden our impact on campus by providing experiential learning, life skills development and research opportunities for student athletes, on-campus relationship managers, faculty and other students through participation in the Team IMPACT program
  • Expand our geographic footprint to cover the entire United States, continuing to expand the Team IMPACT national brand
  • Engage our alumni (both children and student athletes) in meaningful ways to enable other children with life threatening and chronic illnesses to benefit from Team IMPACT

Visit their site to learn more;

“Just” Playing!

Last summer I visited Lurie Children’s Hospital and had the opportunity to meet with members of their Child Life Staff. One of the people I met was the Director of Children’s Services. When she asked about my volunteering experience, I mentioned that I was completing my practicum and learning a lot about Child Life and working with kids in the hospital setting. I also shared that I was volunteering in a clinic’s waiting room. My responsibilities there included “just playing with the kids.” She immediately called me out on using the word just and encouraged me to not say “just” playing or “just” doing anything else. Because every experience is important.

In the past year, I have reflected on this advice many times. She was so firm against using the word “just.” And she was right, “just” minimizes things. It trivializes experiences. “Just” diminishes the importance of our work. You’re not “just” listening to someone, you are listening to that person. Being in the moment is so crucial, you listening to them could make a world of difference to that person who needs you. You don’t “just” volunteer, you volunteer. And that volunteering is something you should be proud of, it’s important.

I had an experience while volunteering at a Child Advocacy Center that reaffirmed for me the importance of play. One day while I was volunteering, a little boy came into the waiting room with one of his parents. The waiting room of the advocacy center was empty that day and so I spent my time playing with this little boy. We played Jenga, Sorry and other games while he and his parent waited to meet with members of the interdisciplinary staff. I didn’t think that our interaction was unusual. I played with kids in the waiting room all the time and this patient was no different. The way I saw it, I wasn’t providing any sort of specialized support. I was not prepping him for procedures or helping him cope with stress. I played with him to occupy his and my time while we were both in the waiting room.

When his parent was ready to go, the little boy asked that he stay longer so he could keep playing. His parent allowed him to stay a little longer before they needed to leave. As the little boy left, he told me that I was his best friend. We must have very different ideas of what a best friend is because I think of a best friend as someone who has been there for you for years and makes you laugh and have fun. But to that little boy, my playing with him meant I was his friend. I communicated with him through play. By “just” playing, I told him he was safe and loved. By allowing him to “just” choose the games he wanted to play with, I was able to give him back a sense of control. I was not “just” playing, I was playing.

“If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings and grow.”

– Alfie Kohn

Fabulous Find Friday: Basket of Hope

Medicine is about more that drugs and machines. For people to heal, their souls need to be touched as well as their bodies. By caring for patients emotionally and mentally, we begin to care for the whole person instead of treating a diagnosis.

Basket of Hope does exactly this, they share games, toys, crafts and other items of comfort to patients who are diagnosed with cancer or other serious illnesses. Learn more about what goes into their baskets here


Fabulous Find Friday: Splashes of Hope

Splashes of Hope is an organization that decorates hospital rooms through the help of both professional and volunteer artists. A hospital is a scary place with it’s beeping machines and cold and foreign rooms. Stuffed toys and fleece blankets can help, but the walls are often still white and cold. Splashes of Hope paints color and life on the walls. They create a warm and loving environment for patients and their families.


A Letter to My Volunteer Supervisors

Last week I turned in my volunteer badge and finished another volunteer position. After nine months of playing with the hospitalized children and cuddling babies, leaving was bittersweet. While I’m excited to start my internship next fall, I am going to miss being an inpatient volunteer.

Organizations are often so thankful for their volunteers. They say that they couldn’t do what they do without their volunteers. Their volunteers are the most important part of their group. Speaking as a volunteer, I want to thank the groups that have allowed me to volunteer for them.

If I could, I would just volunteer for the rest of my life and not get a paying job. Because I was not left a multi-million dollar trust fund, I am going to have to get a job eventually. But I don’t think that I will ever stop volunteering, because it’s honestly the best job I’ve ever had. Knowing that I am playing a part in making a difference in someone else’s life is one of the best feelings in the world.

There are numerous health benefits associated with volunteering. The Corporation for National and Community Service published a review of recent research about these health benefits. You can read all 20 pages here. In short, volunteers have better physical and mental health. In the introduction to this research, volunteers are reported to have “lower mortality rates.” So thank you to my volunteer supervisor for keeping me alive!

One of the joys of volunteering is being able to do tasks that employees don’t have time for. In the past, this has meant cleaning toys, labeling them, running errands or delivering messages. Why do I enjoy this? Someone has to do these tasks and although they aren’t the most glamorous part of the volunteer position, they are necessary. By cleaning the toys, it means the child life specialists have more time to dedicate to their patients. By running errands around the ER, staff can focus on caring for their patients.

There is minimal pressure or stress as a volunteer. It’s just a time to be present. You can be present to the survivor of trauma that you are supporting, you can play with your campers at summer camp, or you can cuddle babies who are alone and each of those are your only task. As a volunteer, you don’t have a long To Do list waiting for you to finish. Your job is to be present for those who need you, to listen and support. Your role is to take each task as the most important task and focus all your time and energy on that one person that needs you.

Going to a volunteer job is an opportunity to take a break from the crazy and hectic lives that we all live. I think that almost everyone is always being pulled a million different directions. When you show up as your volunteer appointment, you can put away and phone and stop worrying about everything you need to do when you return home. You can relax and spend time with others who need you. It’s a chance to love people for who they are and sit with them in their pain and their joy.

I want to finish by saying thank you to all my past volunteer supervisors and those that I will work with in the future. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to grow as a person! Thank you for giving me a chance to love and serve others! Thank you for letting me help you care for those in need! Thank you for inspiring me by the work you do! Thank you for opening the doors to new opportunities! I don’t think that either of us will know the full impact that my volunteer position with you had on my life, but I do know that I have grown as a person since volunteering with you. And I firmly believe that every life experience affects us, so thank you for having such a positive influence on my future. 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou