“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: Sara’s Smiles Foundation

Today’s spotlight is on the Sara’s Smiles Foundation. They are an organization that put together kits for children who are fighting cancer. Their inspiration kit includes the following:

  • A file for important papers
  • A form letter to notify and reach out to friends, family and community
  • A tote bag to carry items throughout the hospital
  • Reusable Sticker Corners to display photos, artwork, etc. on walls
  • A door hanger and washable markers to personalize one’s room
  • A squeeze toy for stress release
  • An art pad for self-expression
  • A “Picture Me Proud” Card to share milestones and/or special accomplishments
  • Small Toys for amusement and distraction
  • A “Follow Us” Card to share pictures and stories with Sara’s Smiles

Visit their site to learn more about resources for kids with Cancer and to order kits: http://www.saras-smiles.org/links.htm

 

Julia is coming to Sesame Street

Meet Julia! Julia has autism and she is the newest Muppet on Sesame Street.

Julia was introduced to better prepare children when they meet playmates and friends who have autism. In March 2014, it was believed that about 1 in 68 children have autism spectrum disorder. By bringing Julia to Sesame Street, the writers aren’t teaching children everything there is to learn about autism but they are exposing children to a Muppet with autism. As Child Life Specialists, we know the importance of preparation and education. What a great form of preparation for children preparing to enter school, or even any environment in which they will meet other children. 60 Minutes has a great article about Julia and the show which you can find here.

Sesame Street is a great show for kids. What are some of you favorite kids shows and why?

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PSIA Certification: Level One Instructor

Over Christmas Break this winter, I finally got my level one certification as a ski instructor. I’ve been teaching 3-6 year olds how to ski for the past 6 years, but never wanted to take the test. Well at the beginning of this year, I traveled to New Hampshire to take the test and I am so glad that I did.

Let me backtrack for a moment and explain what PSIA means and what the exam looks like. PSIA stands for Professional Ski Instructors of America. They are a nationwide organization that certifies snow-sports instructors. The exam consists of one day of training, an on hill skiing skill test, a teaching demonstration and then a paper exam that covers basic knowledge of ski instructing and an understanding of the mountain. The whole process takes two days and in the end you receive a certificate and your PSIA pin. If you work at a ski resort, you know exactly how cool it is to have a PSIA pin!

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So why did I wait so long to take the test? I had a couple reasons for not taking the test. I have been teaching skiing since I was 16. As a high school student, teaching skiing was a job that combined my two loves (working with children and skiing). I wasn’t consumed with planning out my future and I was only in high school, it didn’t even cross my mind to take a national certification exam. Once I got into college, I was only home for a couple weeks over Christmas time so teaching at the mountain was a temporary job. My mountain offers PSIA exams, but not during Christmas time. So there also was a lack of convenience that stood in my way.

Why now? Why did I decide to finally take the test? The easy answer is that my supervisor encouraged me to. If I want to move up as an instructor at my mountain, I need my level one certification. There is also a pay increase, so that was obviously a motivating factor. But the real reason is that I am older. I know what I want to do and I want to take advantage of every opportunity to improve myself and be better prepared for the career ahead of me.

The level one training was idea sharing (meeting the other instructors and hearing how they teach the same skill to their student in different ways gave me new ideas to try when I returned to my home mountain), it was educational (the trainers had all taught skiing for a long time, so they were an abundance of knowledge about teaching different kinds of students and different ways to teach the same thing based on the student) and it was self-affirming. I like to teach skiing and I think that I’m not too bad at working with the 3-6 year olds. I was really encouraging to share my ideas with others and hear that they loved how I taught that skill or the way I phrased that direction for my students.

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How does this relate to Child Life? Teaching skiing has given me a lot of experience working with children. Our lesson program is set up so we have the children for the whole day. Not only do I teach skiing, I also feed the kids, calm their fears and gradually accustom them to the discomfort of ski boots and the new sport of sliding down the hill on two sticks. With each lesson, I start by talking to the kids about the ski boots. We play games that they know (duck duck goose, red light green light, etc) in unfamiliar boots and unfamiliar terrain (the snow). Then we learn about the ski and start with just one ski. Once they are comfortable with that, we add the second ski and start going down the bunny slope. In the hospital, child life prep is that gradual familiarization between the patient and the medical equipment they will encounter. Instead of the nurse entering the room and suddenly jabbing an IV into the child’s arm, the Child Life Specialist explains to the child that an IV is a little straw that gives medicine to your body and the child plays with the IV before one is inserted into their arm. Sometimes they even place an IV on a doll before the nurse comes in to place one on the child. The IV is now something that they are familiar with and hopefully more comfortable around. That’s the goal of starting the kids with boot games and one ski, so they will be familiar with skiing before they have two skis strapped to their feet.

Child Life is all about meeting the child where they are at and guiding them through something unfamiliar. Teaching skiing requires the instructor to assess the child and develop a lesson plan based on their experience with the goal of teaching them something new, something unfamiliar.