Auckland, New Zealand
In my career as a child life specialist and educator, I have seen many hospital playrooms throughout the country and across the globe. In my mind’s eye, I have an idea of what makes a playroom wonderful, combining the best parts of every playroom I have ever seen. My imaginary perfect playroom is a large open space, filled with natural light, a warm, cozy atmosphere, comfy furniture, child-sized sinks and work areas, and a working kitchen. The toys are within reach so that all children can
Mural in Mexico City
Playspace in Mexico City
play freely. There is a well stocked medical play corner. There are safe spaces for infants to have tummy time and room to crawl. There are climbing bolsters for toddlers and a wheelchair accessible playhouse for preschoolers and young school-aged children. There are riding toys and sensory play tables. Ping pong and pool tables are there for teens and caregivers to gather around.
The best part about this imaginary playroom is that it is staffed with child life specialists, or hospital play specialists, who have been trained in play theory and play techniques, including the child-centered approach and the Floortime approach. They have also undergone training in racial literacy, and speak many languages. There is cleaning personnel on staff who disinfect toys and surfaces as needed. The playroom has daily programming that includes expressive art. medical art, and medical play. Outdoor playspace is available for children and families facing lengthy hospitalizations.
In order to make my fantasy one step closer to reality, I designed the Vilas Playroom Assessment Rubric VIPAR to guide hospital staff in creating new play spaces or revamping existing ones. I recently updated it with the help of Meagan Roloff from the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP). It is a fillable pdf document that you can download and use to assess your current playspace, or give you ideas for how to design new space. Many hospitals have funding from big corporations to build dramatic and eye-popping play spaces in hospitals. But it isn’t always about the glitz. Sometimes it is the simplest of things, like the sensory room filled with homemade sensory toys in Japan, the custom designed foot high cushioned wall to protect an infant/toddler area from exuberant older kids in New Zealand, or a set of wooden blocks for children to create their own miniature worlds. A doll bed and medical supplies to encourage medical play in Iceland. A wooden playhouse whose door can accommodate a wheelchair and IV pole in New York City. And often, it is about the policies, programming, and training of the staff that make the space a truly child-centered place of healing.
Think outside the box and see where your imagination takes you. And please, drop me a line to let me know how it turns out — I would love to see more photos from around the world!