Certification Steps and Tips

I’ve seen a lot of Facebook posts and emails on the Child Life forum about the steps to becoming certified as a Child Life Specialist. Everything is explained in detail on the Association of Child Life Professional’s website but here’s a brief overview of the steps to becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist.

Volunteer! If you think you might be interested in this career, start by volunteering in the field. The key to building your resume is having a wide variety of experiences. Check out my page about “Getting Volunteer Experience” if you are looking for new ways to strengthen your resume. But probably the most important volunteer experience to get is  the 100 volunteer hours under the supervision of a child life specialist. While the ACLP doesn’t require these 100 hours for certification, most practicum and internship sites require this experience. So without the 100 hours in a child life department, you can’t complete the steps required by the ACLP.

Class Requirements. Once you decide that this is something you are interested in, you will need to think about your major and the college classes that you’ve taken/are taking. Currently the education requirements are a bachelor’s degree in a related field and 10 courses in specific areas. Visit the Association of Child Life Professional’s Course Requirements to learn more about these classes. If you need somewhere to take these classes, the University of California Santa Barbara offers a Child Life Certificate. This certificate does not substitute a bachelor’s degree but can be a great supplement if you are looking for more Child Life specific classes. I completed UCSB’s certificate program after graduating with my BA in Psychology and loved it. The program is a great addition to your undergrad education if you aren’t majoring in Child Life as they provide Child Life Specific classes that are very relevant to the career.

Practicum. The practicum is another step that is not required by the ACLP, but most internship sites require/highly encourage that applicants first complete a practicum. A practicum is a great introduction to the field of child life. It gives students an opportunity to observe and learn from child life specialists through hands on learning. A child life practicum is usually just 100 – 150 hours and focuses on teaching the student about child life whereas an internship’s goal is to make the student independent. If you’re still on the fence, check out my 3 Reasons to do a Child Life Practicum!

Eligibility Assessment. The eligibility assessment is used by the ACLP to identify which students have finished the required steps before they can sit for the exam. The eligibility assessment is $75 but that’s a one time fee. So you can start it even if you don’t think you have all the required classes because you can just update it with more classes as you continue in your child life journey.  Most internship sites ask that you send along a copy of your eligibility assessment with your application, so make sure you start it before internship applications. It can take a couple weeks for the ACLP to receive your transcripts and then approve your classes.

Internship. The Association of Child Life Professionals requires that students complete a 600 hour internship before they are eligible to sit for the exam. As I’m sure most of you know, these internships are very competitive. When preparing to apply, think about the experiences that make you unique from other candidates. Most of the people who are applying for internships have all done their hospital volunteer hours, practicum and required courses. So try to make your application stand out! When internship sites look at applications, they are not only looking for a qualified candidate but for someone who would be a good fit with their team. So applying to more hospitals just increases your chances of an offer. The recommended number I’ve heard mentioned is that students should apply to 20-30 hospitals. I applied to 15 hospitals, interviewed with 4 and received 2 offers. There were also two hospitals that I applied to and never heard back from. So the more open you are to relocating and moving from home for a semester, the better your chances are of an offer.  And remember that it often takes people more that one round of applications before they receive and internship offer, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get an offer the first time.

Certification Exam. The last step is the certification exam. After this exam, you can put the letters CCLS after your name and you will be certified! The exam can only be taken in March, August and November. It’s 150 multiple choice questions that covers the domains of professional responsibility, assessment and intervention. Read the ACLP’s exam content outline to see what’s all on the test. Check out these blog posts to prepare for the exam; Fabulous Find Friday: Child Life Secrets Exam Study Guide and 3 things to know before the Exam.

Any other questions, feel free to send me a message. I was an independent students and created many opportunities for myself, so I’d love to help you out! I know how confusing the process can be when you’re going at it alone.

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Fabulous Find Friday: EnCourage Kids Foundation

EnCourage Kids has been at the National Child Life Conference for the past couple years and I wanted to share this great group with you.

They provide a variety of programs but the goal with all these programs is the same, support the patient and their family. They offer support to patients and staff in the hospital, they provide bears for hospitalized children, donate tablets to hospitals (especially Child Life Programs), organize Escapes (events for families to participate in outside the hospital) and redecorate treatment rooms. To learn more about all they do, check out their list of programs.

If you are in the New York City area, I encourage you to volunteer and get involved with this group. Check out way to give here.

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.

“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

Don’t Give Up!

This week I accepted a Fall Child Life Internship! I’m so excited for what this next chapter of my Child Life journey is going to bring.

I could use this blog post to tell you all about how excited I am, how relieved that the internship application process is over or about my plans for next semester. All of this is happening, but instead I want to speak to those who did not get an internship offer.

If you don’t get an internship, don’t give up! If you truly are passionate about Child Life and want to become a Certified Child Life Specialist, then you will. It might just take a little longer than you expected. Child Life is very competitive. Some hospitals will receive over 75 applicants for their one internship position. So if you did not get an internship this semester, it means that you have time to expand your horizons and build your resume to make yourself more competitive next time.

If you looking for something to add to your experience, think about populations that you haven’t worked with yet. Maybe you have a lot of time spent with oncology patients, but you haven’t worked very many other diagnoses. Or you’ve worked with healthy kids, but don’t have much experience with children with special needs. A wide variety of experiences will give you many skills that can be used when working with kids as a Child Life Specialist. If you’re looking for something new, check out my list for getting volunteer experience. Let me know if you have other ideas that I can add to the list!

“No one has the power to shatter your dreams unless you give it to them.” – Maeve Greyson

Fabulous Find Friday: Project Sunshine

Today’s Fabulous Find Friday is Project Sunshine. I learned about this group at the National Child Life Conference back in May.

Project Sunshine is a nonprofit organization that provides free educational, recreational, and social programs to children facing medical challenges and their families.

Project Sunshine empowers a dynamic and dedicated corps of over 15,000 volunteers to bring programming – recreational (arts), educational (tutoring and mentoring) and social service (HIV and nutritional counseling) – to 100,000 children facing medical challenges and their families in 175 cities across the United States and in four international locations: Canada, China, Israel and Kenya.

Volunteers selflessly donate their time to create program materials and deliver programs. Working onsite, our volunteers relieve the anxiety of the young patients and in a context of fun and play, foster in them the courage and coping skills necessary to confront procedures that lie ahead.

Project Sunshine volunteers spread sunshine, restoring a crucial sense of normalcy to the pediatric healthcare environment.

Project Sunshine has a bunch of volunteer opportunities for both students and also community members. So be sure to check out their website: http://www.projectsunshine.org/volunteer/index.php

Fabulous Find Friday: American Red Cross

Today’s Fabulous Find Friday is not exactly original, but it’s one that deserves mentioning. The American Red Cross does a lot for those in need, but what I want to focus on today is blood donation.

As you can see, I am a blood donor. (Please ignore the awful angle of the picture, I wanted to make sure to get the donation arm and my face. Not an easy task). I want to encourage you all to donate blood because it’s a simple way to make a difference. As future Child Life Specialists, it’s also a good way to gain insight into the child’s experience. Donating blood is obviously not the same as an intimidating medical procedure, but I’ve found it helpful to get stuck with a needle every couple weeks. It’s one thing to say, “oh, it’s just a little pinch/sting and then it’s over.” It’s another thing to experience the needle and sit with it in your arm.

If you are a donor, why do you donate blood?


Fabulous Find Friday: RAINN Online Hotline

Today’s Fabulous Find is not specifically Child Life related, but it is a way to provide support similar to what Child Life Specialists do. Child Life Specialists use empathy to reflect and validate the feelings and experiences of the children and families that they encounter. Unfortunately, this opportunity is really only available to my readers that live near New York City or Washington D.C.

RAINN provides a 24/7 hours hotline for survivors of sexual assault. For about a year now, I have worked as a staffer for their online hotline. What’s so great about this opportunity is that I can do it from my computer at home. The way this hotline works is that you choose when you want to do your handful of 2 hour shifts each month and then you can support a survivor through their online chat. The training is 40 hours of online training and then a weekend in either New York City or Washington D.C. Click here to learn more about how to get involved.

What are some of your favorite volunteer experiences that you have done?

Fabulous Find Friday: Child Life Disaster Relief

A few weeks ago, I was lucky to stumble upon the Child Life Disaster Relief’s website. This group provides Child Life Services to disaster areas. By partnering with Children’s Disaster Services, Child Life Disaster Relief deploys trained relief workers to areas in need. For a Child Life Student, the Child Life Disaster Relief provides some great opportunities. Not only do they offer Child Life related trainings, but they also provide opportunities for research. You can learn more ways to get involved here.

Child Life Disaster Relief is a new and expanding area for research. What area of Child Life would you recommend researchers focus on next?