Walli Kids: Spotlight & Giveaway

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Many parents arrive in hospitals for unexpected visits, sick or injured child in tow. In emergency situations, they probably don’t have a child’s favorite toy or game with them,  and they may find themselves waiting long hours without a way to distract or occupy their unhappy child. Even during expected hospitalizations, there are times when a child has to visit and wait in areas of the hospital, for tests and procedures, where they have nothing but institutional walls to greet them. Child Life Specialists know the value of great distraction tools to soothe anxiety during long waiting periods and painful procedures.

With this in mind, I would like to welcome guest blogger Patricia Montouchet, the founder of  Walli-Kids. She has a great product for parents, child life specialists, hospitals, and doctors’ offices. 

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Today I am going to tell you about Walli-Kids, the company I created a few years ago.

You might wonder what started Wallikids ?

Difficult to pinpoint exactly how the idea and the vision fell into place, but …

Many years ago, as every mother, I recall being awfully stressed when my son crashed his bicycle, hard enough to break open his helmet. We had to rush to the emergency room and… I will skip all the details. Needless to say, we had to wait long hours on that Saturday afternoon…

What to do? How to distract Lucas? What could I do to ease his pain, anxiety and hide the waiting.

Nothing, I had nothing… In our hurry, I forgot to take his books, games or even his favorite stuffed animal friend as time was of the essence. There was no picture on the walls to help distract him, no child books.  Without any doubt, this was a difficult and striking experience for me.

When my children left for college, I decided it was time to do something I would really enjoy. My daughter Margot is very creative and together, we started  drawing Ralph the Giraffe© and  Mitch the Fish© which would, after a few years, be part of our Animal Buddies collection.                              

 

Coleman the Pelican© was created after a family vacation at the beach.

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Myrtle the Turtle© after reading about the Great Coral Reef and

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           ED ABIGAIL 36x30 Abigail the Snail© to remember our  many summer vacations in our native French Alps.

Walli-Kids Animal buddies Collection is for younger kids that don’t know how to read: they have to look for numbers and pictures, soon they will start having fun. Under an adult supervision, all the many details can be highlighted such as a frog group or a crab family… These colorful designs are a conversation starter for the medical staff as it is easy to start a storytelling or ask to find other hidden animals. These posters are perfect for kids to learn new words and discover new places

At that point, we had something for younger kids but nothing for the ones who could read, so our Puzzle-Jumbles collection was created…

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This was countless hours of assembling arrays of diverse and colorful objects. Enough to keep the children entertained for a while and well-hidden to make their focus last longer…

Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun figuring out what would go into each activity-poster and then counting and re-counting each object to make sure that it was all there. The hardest Puzzle-Jumble activity-poster you might wonder? Without any doubt Animal XL© and #8 XL©

 

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We are still working on our 3rd collections: Same difference. I will keep you posted soon…

Now, the best part is that I can write about how excited I am to share with you our newest product: Acry-Walli. Our designs are reverse printed on a rigid 1/8  inch thick sheet of clear acrylic with a white vinyl backing. The end product displays vivid colors and is very durable. It is very easy to clean with any antibacterial solution, it will not be damaging to the ink as it is reverse printed. These activity-posters can be screwed on to the walls , hardware and color snap-caps are provided to hide the screws. All our designs have rounded corners to avoid catching little fingers.

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You might ask where is the best place to put the Acry-Walli? On walls, in waiting rooms, consulting and treatment rooms. Note that since we design and manufacture every product here in Atlanta, we are able to offer any size, or even incorporate our customers’ mascot or logo in the design.

There is another product that  I should mention as it has become Child Life Specialists’ best friend: our Walli-Kids lap-posters printed on a high quality styrene. All of our designs are available in this 12”x10” hand held size. We came up with this smaller dimension to make it portable and help young patients focus on something colorful and attention grabbing during medical procedures such as treatments, vaccinations… I must mention that many hospitals use them in their waiting room to help with the waiting.

As you read my article to the end, you deserve “a little something”, so if you enter your contact information on our website, Facebook or Twitter, your name will be entered in our drawing for 2 free lap-posters, one from each of our collections.

Should you have any questions on our products, do not hesitate to email me at patricia@wallikids.com.

Get Well Maps: Road to Recovery

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Please welcome our guest blogger, Christina Connors, who I interviewed after she connected with me on Linked In and sent me samples of her incredible Get Well Maps.

What inspired you to create these maps? My son’s medical experience in 2014, and my desire to help other children and families facing medical challenges, inspired me to create Get Well Maps. Andrew was 5 years old when he was hospitalized with bilateral pneumonia and H1N1 flu, and his condition quickly became life threatening. He was air lifted to our closest pediatric hospital (~2 hours away) and was transferred to the PICU secondary to respiratory failure. I felt completely helpless to care for him. There were so many uncertainties. My “Mama Bear” impulses were raging, and yet my background as an Occupational Therapist was underpinning every effort I made to advocate for my child.

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I felt compelled to have a visual that would depict his “Road Home”, because despite the uncertainty of prognosis, timeline or discharge plan, we needed to SEE our goal of getting home in the midst of adversity. I asked my childhood friend to make a map that had a road, photo of our home and matchbox car to move along as his condition progressed (My son has always loved anything with wheels). She was eager to do anything to help, but found it strange that my request of her was a “craft project” (Child Life Specialists & OTs get it). She graciously obliged, anyways. What began as a desperate mother’s attempt to provide a tool to help her child, began to draw interest from his medical team, and sparked communication that connected us throughout his care (“Is that your house?”, “Do you like to play outside?”, “Buddy, you’ve already rounded that bend”…). It was months after our experience, and after becoming involved in our pediatric hospital’s Family Advisory Committee, that another parent encouraged me to develop this idea in a way that would help other children and families throughout their medical experiences.

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What was the process like from your idea to creating the product and your company? I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared! I was exposing a time in our family’s life that held much vulnerability. But I was also excited about the possibility of having a creative outlet that helped me process our experience in a way that helped others. My faith was strengthened by our experience, and I felt like I was being called into this work. I felt that this was a unique opportunity to combine my experience as a parent and healthcare professional (& my husband is an educator) to make a positive impact in the healthcare experiences of other children and families. I began slowly. Brainstorming, then drafting prototypes, researching materials, production options, searching for the right illustrator, and learning the basics of establishing a business. I use the analogy of a foggy road when I think about the process of transforming an idea into a company, and even now as I continue to navigate and evolve. I can’t always see where I am headed because the road is foggy, but when I have faith enough to move forward, the fog lifts briefly and becomes a little clearer just in front of me, which in turn gives me the confidence to keep going. (Just can’t seem to get away from the road/car analogies!)

Can you tell us a bit about your work as an OT and your experience as a mom? I graduated from the Occupational Therapy program at Towson University in 2002, and have been practicing as an Occupational Therapist for 15 years. I became interested in Occupational Therapy after my Aunt was in a car accident and sustained a C4-C5 spinal cord injury. It was the 1st time my family was truly impacted by disability and I was inspired to learn more about the professionals that were helping her. Since beginning my career as an OT, I have always had an equal love of pediatric and adult rehabilitation. I have experience in hospital, inpatient rehabilitation, home healthcare and school settings. I have always found my work as an OT very rewarding, and am very passionate about working with individuals with neurological disorders and sensory needs. My greatest loves… my hubbie, Mike, and my 2 children are at the center of my world. There was a lot we experienced emotionally as a family during and following my son’s hospitalization that changed my perspective as a mom. I don’t worry as much about small decisions and details, don’t take as much for granted, and really value the importance of finding moments of “calm” in our hectic day-to-day routines. Their love, support, and boundless energy are driving forces behind Child Inspired.

What do you want parents and medical staff to know about children in hospitals? I think many already know, but I think ALL medical professionals need to know that (many, if not most) children and families are not processing auditory information effectively during stressful medical events. Children and families want (and need) medical teams to disclose accurate and honest medical information, but it needs to be delivered with a compassionate, child-centered approach. Don’t be scared of informing children and parents of setbacks or regressions in progress. They know setbacks occur. They just need consistent, jargon-free language that helps them understand what is happening and supports them through the disappointment. Families and medical professionals also need to know that emotional healing will often take much longer than physical healing, and need to be educated on resources that the family can access if emotional or behavioral concerns arise after discharge.

 

What are your hopes for your company? My hope for Child Inspired is that our Get Well Maps will become a model for child-centered discharge planning, and that our tools will also help children and families visualize their progress as they re-integrate back into school and community activities after medical events. In this fast-paced, digital age where much of what our children encounter is instant gratification, many children need support and encouragement as they work towards goals that require time and perseverance. It is my hope that our Maps facilitate positive, encouraging language and communication between children and the adults providing their care.

 

Do you have any tips for how parents and child life specialists might use these maps? I love your profession and the amazing work that you do with children, siblings and families, as well as the work you do to model and advocate for child-centered care among your other medical colleagues. I think that Child Life Specialists can play a pivotal role in daily medical rounding and discharge planning, and that Get Well Maps provide a method for facilitating child-centered communication and visually tracking medical progress. A Get Well Map is fun, and individualized to the child’s interests and goal, therefore, it reduces anxiety by helping you relay and reinforce information discussed in medical rounding (often laden with medical jargon) in a way that is developmentally appropriate and child-centered. Contact us to learn more about how a CCLS is using Get Well Maps with children after bone marrow transplants, and how her unit now has a physician order and pathway to initiate Child Life assessment and intervention (including Get Well Maps) from diagnosis to discharge.
Anything else you want us to know? Thank you for all that you do! As always, I would love to collaborate with you and your teams to develop solutions for your patient populations and healthcare organizations.

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Velvet Revolution Remembered

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November 17, 2017 marked the 28th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, when  Czech citizens rose up against communism and succeeded in toppling the regime, foretelling the coming dissolution of the USSR. This date is no coincidence, as it echoes a previous moment in history, when the Nazis responded to students’ protests by closing all Czech universities, killing 9 students and imprisoning 1200 in concentration camps.

On the national holiday, the Kralovecs and I joined the throngs at Wenceslas Square in Prague to remember and celebrate the arrival of freedom and democracy  to their country. A large stage with a giant screen broadcast live music and political speeches. When we first arrived, yards away a news crew interviewed one candidate for the presidency, surrounding him with bright camera lights and microphones.

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Booths lined the street, some displaying candles in red glass jars, and ribbons in Czech red white and blue, others offering political information. One encouraged passers by to sign a petition calling a stop to the hunger strike of a man protesting the current president running again for office. People feel that his life is more important than the foolishness of the current president.

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The self sacrifice is reminiscent of a student’s martyrdom in 1969.  Jan Palach set himself on fire at Wenceslas Square after the Soviet Union invaded his native Czechoslovakia to crush the reforms of Alexander Dubcek’s government.  The actions of people who sacrifice themselves in order to awaken awareness and resistance against oppression are as disturbing as they are inspiring. Why should this have to happen in order for people to wake up and resist?

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We headed to Narodni Trida, the place where the protestors and police clashed on the fateful day. Entering a building where an exhibit of enlarged photos of the revolution hung in the lobby, I noticed a father explaining one photo to his small son.

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The photos told the story of the revolutionaries, who were students for the most part. They carried signs calling for freedom. One showed students with raised and open hands. A banner read “Our hands are empty!” indicating their lack of weapons. Apparently the wording for “We have sticks in our hands” is very similar to their statement, and the authorities later lied in the press, reporting that the students were inciting violence. In fact, it was a peaceful demonstration and many students handed or threw flowers to the police in riot gear, who responded with violence.

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Outside the building a sea of glowing red candles and flowers surrounded the edifice. Citizens young and old  approached the flickering monument to add their own candle or flowers. Small children crouched at the edges, observing the firelight while they braved the cold night.

 

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A marching band made its way up the middle of the street along the trolley tracks and stopped beneath a balcony to accompany a singer whose voice silenced the crowd. She sang a rendition of a song performed from the same balcony during the protest, and I could see that many people were moved to tears by her words. Even though I don’t speak Czech, I too felt a stirring and energy that seemed synergistic with the crowd’s mood.

I  had many questions for Jiri  and Marketa about what they recall from that day in 1989. They explained that their role was a small one, handing out pamphlets and showing up for the protests. The people of Prague were mostly open to the ideas of change and democracy, but the citizens in rural areas were more closed to the revolutionary ideas and less willing to risk protesting Communism. Well known actors took up the cause to travel in groups from village to village to impart the message of freedom and facilitate change. It makes me think of what evil can do in the face of no action at all, and it was the many risks that people took, large and small, that brought about tremendous change.

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We drove home watching the television broadcast of the Memory of the Nation Awards broadcast from an elegant theater on the Square and streamed on Jiri’s smartphone. A dear friend of the Kralovecs, Father Frantisek Lizna, was one of three recipients. The nation celebrated the Jesuit priest for his service to the country in taking a stance against Communism that landed him in jail, and for a life of service to those in need. I had met him on one of my previous visits, and I recall his kind, open and playful nature. Indeed,  jokes and banter peppered his acceptance speech, and he exuded humor and lightness even in this formal environment.

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Funny enough, we found out later that we all appeared on the national Czech news prime time that night, as the news cameras caught us unaware in the crowd. I felt extraordinarily blessed to stand witness to the history of this place and to share in the personal memories of my revolutionary friends. As we headed home through the dark and foggy roads to the village of Malejovice, I thought about how the students proclaimed that in unity there is strength, despite the authorities’ attempts to separate the workers from the educated classes in order to tamp down knowledge and resistance. I think of our own country and how coming together may be the only way to survive and thrive as a true democracy.

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Spotlight: Child Life Intern in Community-Based Practice

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This week, I will spotlight a Canadian career changer as a guest blogger.  Kim Zink is  currently completing her child life internship in a community-based practice with mentor, Morgan Livingstone, a CCLS based out of Toronto, Ontario. Kim left her position in the school board to focus and refine her scope of practice to assisting children and families facing challenging life events.   She sensed the need for more psychosocial supports and greater visibility of child life services in the Ottawa region. So, with the support of her husband, two children, and extended family, she is chasing her dream!

 

This internship has been the perfect fit for me.  My mentor has been working in her own practice for many years, so she has a broad network of community resources and wealth of knowledge in many areas including global health, retinoblastoma, and traumatic brain injuries. She also wrote an incredible parent guide for families affected by breast cancer (including metastatic disease).

 

My internship has been full and rich. My first rotation took place at the Shoe4Africa Children’s Hospital and the Sally Test Pediatric Centre in Eldoret, Kenya. Morgan has been developing a self-sustained child life program there for many years. It was invaluable to see the robust program which now includes a number of child life specialists, teachers, playroom monitors and child life assistants. The team endearingly refer to Morgan as  ‘ our mwalimu,’ which means teacher in Swahili. Morgan served as an example of how to be patient-centered and culturally sensitive in global healthcare, no easy task.

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While we were there, I was invited to sit in on an oncology meeting. It was deeply moving and inspiring to hear the doctors speak so highly of the child life staff to the families. The doctors spoke of being a team and that families should refer to child life with any questions about their child’s developmental, social and emotional needs. The child life team has built an advanced practice and a great interdisciplinary approach. Unfortunately, in some areas, the pain medications and ideal supplies are not available, so I had the opportunity to offer distractions through games on a tablet and meteor storm toy to bring the child’s  attention away from the burned areas and bandage changes during procedures. It was a proud moment for me when the doctor told me that the best bandage change a particular boy had ever had and that I was welcome back anytime.

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The hospital sees over 300 children every day, and sadly many of the children are not brought to the hospital until their illness has progressed to the palliative state. So we turned our focus to legacy building and adding quality to end of life.  One simple and inexpensive legacy activity that worked well was making a salt dough handprint for each family.

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During my second rotation, I relocated to Toronto to intern in Morgan’s local private practice. She sees a number of teen patients, which was a demographic I knew I needed more experience with. I discovered it’s key to listen carefully to their interests and then go home and study up on these interests to gain common ground for future conversation and show teens that you listen and care about what they have to say. So now I  know  more about the ins and outs of  making slime and the youtube channel, Simply Nailogical, than I ever thought possible. This research paved the way to building rapport and trust with one teen in particular. Showing interest in her interests was a great connector.

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My future work in child life has also be enhanced by working with my mentor on traumatic brain injury cases. I had the opportunity to see treatment plans, do home visits, sit in on team meetings, and understand the billing process through insurance providers. During a recent conference call, a teen’s mother said, “Things started to finally turn around when Morgan was added to the rehab team and started her sessions. She [the teen] found the tools and started to cope, she really improved with Morgan’s help.”

My latest adventure in my internship included a trip to Washington, DC for the One Retinoblastoma World Conference. I had the privilege of assisting Morgan with the child life programming, which included transformative literacy, medical play, and lots of activities with special eyes. It was great to see one child move from fear to familiarization with the sedation mask. Another child displayed new skills of mastery by using the medical doll to practice cleaning and adjusting an ocular prosthesis. Still another young child spoke openly about having a special eye, as he called it, for the first time. One of the teens overheard and said: “Me too, and I like to take mine out with a suction cup.” There is nothing like these spontaneous conversations to bring about that reassurance of ‘sameness” and soothe constant feelings of being different from everyone else.

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Above all, I will finish my internship with ample understanding of what it means to be an advocate for children. Morgan is a tireless champion for her patients, working to be sure they have everything, from a great relationship with their general physician to the correct supports from their school. She moves mountains to make sure the children and teens in her care have everything they need to be happy, healthy children. We need more child life specialists doing this work in the broader community.

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PS: Navigating independent and Canadian internship possibilities has its challenges. I highly recommend the Facebook group for ‘Child Life for Canadian Students’ and http://www.cacll.org/

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Child Life & Art Therapy in Disaster Shelters: The Humanity Factor

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During these recent days of hurricanes, tornados, fires and violence, it is hard to know in which direction to turn – what to focus on – where to put our energies. Fred Rogers taught us all to “look for the helpers”, and I always find that calming and inspiring, so I have decided to republish a piece that I cowrote with Tara Lynch Horan after we coordinated services at a shelter in NYC following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It gives a taste of what child life specialists and art therapists can do to ease the suffering of children in times of upheaval.

In addition, tapping into our ability to BE the helpers can also assist us in making sense of tragedy. In this vain, I attended a training this past weekend given by  Children’s Disaster Services  in coordination with the Child Life Disaster Relief organization. It was empowering, and I highly recommend the training to anyone who wishes to volunteer to provide safe play opportunities for children following disasters. You can do this locally or be deployed to other states in the USA. And if you can’t lend a hand, donations to organizations like these can still make a difference and impact quality of life for children.

Here is the article reprinted from Vilas, D. & Lynch Horan, T. (2013). Trees, Houses and Sidewalk Cities: Child Life and Creative Arts Interventions at a Post-Sandy Shelter.  New York Association for Play Therapy Newsletter, January 2013, 16 (2).

“A phone call from a Naval Commander stationed at a shelter in  NYC sparked the —-  Shelter Creative Arts Therapy / Child Life Initiative Mission. Commander Moira McGuire headed up a mental health team at the shelter serving many families. As a behavioral health nurse, she saw the need for therapeutic activities for the approximately 50 children facing displacement and uncertainty. In response to her outreach, a consortium of Creative Arts Therapists and Child Life Specialists quickly assembled. Our goal was to provide therapeutic creative arts opportunities to children and families post Hurricane Sandy. We hoped to facilitate psychosocial coping and adjustment to the stress and potential trauma of the Hurricane experience and to the stressors of the shelter environment. The first team of volunteers that responded within 24 hours numbered 14 and included 11 child life specialists who were colleagues, alumni or current students from the Bank Street College of Education, along with two art therapists and one dance and movement therapist.

We would like to share some of the techniques that we employed successfully during the two weeks that the shelter was in operation. Leyla Akca, an art therapist, brought paper shopping bags in on that first day. She led children in an activity that explored the “stuff “we carry with us daily, and the invisible stuff we carry on the inside no matter where we are. It was a powerful metaphor, and the children took to it eagerly, decorating their bags with many open-ended materials. Leyla had previously participated in disaster relief in Turkey following earthquakes there. She had a lot of wisdom to share with us all, and her activity gave us focus and purpose.

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Maryanne Verzosa, a child life specialist from St. Lukes Roosevelt Hospital, supplied found objects from nature, which included sticks and twigs. As she gathered children in a circle sitting on the floor of the shelter, the children spontaneously created three-dimensional houses out of the materials. One child presented his stick house to his uncle, saying, “This is for you because you lost your house.” Commander McGuire had asked us to bring sidewalk chalk with us, as the children had access to an outdoor patio. Her instincts were perfect. A six year-old boy spent all afternoon creating a chalk city of roads, “for the children”, and buildings. We provided the child with miniature buildings and figures for his chalk city, and the play continued and drew other children into its circle.

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One of the final activities took place during the last day when families were moving out of the shelter, many of them to hotels. Tara Lynch Horan, a child life specialist, worked with several art therapists on a community project of building a mural tree and decorating it with leaves representing what families leaned on during Sandy‟s aftermath. The art therapists worked with the children creating the tree, while Tara went from cot to cot, engaging parents in depicting their resiliency factors on precut leaves made from construction paper.

The collaboration of Child Life and Creative Arts Therapists brought about many therapeutic moments for these children and families. The activities employed a variety of directive and open-ended techniques. As we would expect, the children and parents created their own meaning and healing. All they needed was the time, space, materials and gentle encouragement from trained therapeutic agents. Humanity at its best.”

Why Aren’t We Preparing Kids for Disaster

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Beal_Photo_sm Guest Blogger Heather Beal is a military veteran with 23 years of crisis management and operational planning experience that she draws upon daily in her battle to raise two well-prepared, happy, curious, and intelligent children. As a trained emergency manager and parent, she saw the need to provide age-appropriate disaster preparedness information to young children in a way that empowered rather than frightened them. She is currently writing additional books to cover a greater spectrum of potential disasters children may face.

“Generally speaking, we do not prepare our children for disaster. We make them hold our hand in the parking lot and talk about the dangers of getting burned by the stove, but we stop short of this really big “disaster” word. When I think about it, I can come up with a few excuses we call reasons as to why we don’t give this topic the attention that we should.

First, like our children, (but usually without donning the superhero capes and masks), we believe that we are invincible. It (the disaster) can’t happen to ‘us,’ it only happens to ‘others.’ Folks – look at Hurricane Harvey, Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, and any other number of disasters. With that many people affected – the ‘us’ and the ‘others’ are the same people. We need to look at disaster as a probability, not a possibility.

Second, we think talking about disaster will be too scary. I get it. No one wants to tell children anything bad could happen. We all know our children could get terribly hurt running if hit by a car in the parking lot, but we don’t get into explicit details about injury and death. We do however, talk to them about being safe, making good choices, and not doing things that could more likely result in their getting hurt.

We should approach talking about disaster in the same way we approach other learning topics or the consequences of actions or inaction. We don’t need to focus on the destruction a tornado can cause, how their lives could be uprooted, or what other things could dramatically change. We can however, talk about what children need to do to stay as safe as possible.

There are no guarantees in life for anything. We can’t guarantee that a car in the parking lot won’t do something stupid, just as we can’t guarantee the tornado will miss a child’s house, school, or childcare. But we, as parents, as childcare providers, as educators, as caregivers, as emergency managers, and as community members, can arm our children with the tools to succeed. We owe them that.

Sounds good – but how would I know, right? Fair question. A few years ago I tried to explain to my then 4-year old daughter that she and her brother might be woken up in the middle of the night to go into the basement if there was a tornado warning. Of course, it was already dark and stormy (thunder and lightning and everything). Needless to say, I did a very poor job, ultimately scaring her and beating myself up about my failed attempt to mitigate later fear through a botched explanation. Never again I vowed.

That was when I discovered that almost no one was having the conversation with young kids (toddler, preschool, or kindergarten) about disaster. At the same time, I realized that disaster was not going to sit by patiently and wait until my children could calmly and rationally discuss everything at a grown up level. I decided I could develop a way to talk with them in a way that didn’t scare them, but instead empowered them by teaching them what to do and giving them back a little control in a typically uncontrollable situation. They might not be able to stop the disaster, but they could do something to increase their safety within it.

I started Train 4 Safety Press to develop picture books that would teach children what to do “if.” As I conducted research, I discovered a few books out there on the science of disaster, but almost none that taught young children what to do when the disaster was happening. Our first book Elephant Wind tackles what to do during a tornado. Tummy Rumble Quake teaches children about the Great ShakeOut™ and earthquake safety.

Children have a great capacity for building their own resilience. Teaching them how to protect themselves can have an exponential effect. Children could not only help themselves, they could help their classmates, their teachers, their family and their community. Isn’t anything that increases the odds we bring our children home after a disaster worth it? Can we afford not to talk about it?”

And here is a great resource: National Child Traumatic Stress Network

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Child Life United: Practicums & Missions Abroad

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Ever since I first stepped off a plane in New Zealand over three years ago, I have become fascinated by what my profession looks like in other countries. Whether you call it Child Life, Hospital Play or Pediatric Psychosocial Healthcare, I have learned that there are many ways to ease the stress of medical treatment for children across the globe. I was in conversation recently with a mover and shaker in the Child Life world, Courtney Moreland, founder of Child Life United. Courtney has been busy creating practicums in partnership with child life programs on the international front, in addition to coordinating child life volunteer positions in her mission work.

Courtney noticed an increasing level of competition for a sparse number of practicums in the United States. Tapping into a growing interest within our field in international work, she came up with the idea of partnering with child life professionals abroad to create more practicum opportunities for budding child life specialists.

First stop — the Middle East! Courtney teamed up with Bank Street College alum, Rachel Werner, a child life specialist pioneer working for Save a Child’s Heart in Israel. Courtney supplied supervision for practicum students, while the students shadowed Rachel in her day to day work. This way, students benefited from Rachel’s modeling, and Courtney shouldered the responsibilities of supervision and training. Courtney provides a curriculum and leads the students in reflective practice. This unique set up means that the students get 100% of Courtney’s attention, energy and expertise, while Rachel can concentrate on her clinical duties. Anyone who has ever supervised or precepted a student knows that this is a win win for everyone. The pilot rolled out this Spring with three students as a one month, full time practicum. They were from America, Canada, and an expat now living in Israel.

Rachel reflects: “I loved the novel idea from the beginning and Courtney’s initiative to bring child life specialists around the world to learn, even to places like Israel where Child Life is not a known field. Although Save a Child’s Heart is an alternative setting, we agreed that it could be a one-of-a-kind learning experience for students seeking an international practicum. In the end I know a lot was learned, and the children will remember the three wonderful women (four including Courtney) when they think back of their time in Israel.”

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Courtney and Rachel – A fabulous partnership!
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All Child Life United Practicums will follow the Recommended Standards as set forth by the Association of Child Life Professionals – ACLP (formally the Child Life Council)

Child Life Practicum

The child life practicum is designed as an introductory experience for individuals interested in pursuing a career in child life. Through experiential learning and observation of Certified Child Life Specialists, child life practicum students begin to increase their knowledge of basic child life skills related to play, developmental assessment, and integration of child life theory into interventions with infants, children, youth and families. Child life practicum students will increase their comfort level by interacting with infants, children, youth, and families in stressful situations, health care settings and/or in programs designed for special needs populations.  Through these experiences, child life practicum students will enhance their knowledge of the child life profession and investigate the process of applying child life and developmental theory to practice.  

The next practicum will be held in Sydney, Australia this summer. You can find details in the  Student Information Packet – Australia Practicum. Courtney seeks applicants who have completed 100 hours of volunteer work in a child life department. It is a plus if you have at least one child life course under your belt, but it is not required.

Applications are DUE June 1st, 2017

The application is also located on the Child Life United website www.childlifeunited.org

Mission Work

This summer Courtney is also happy to announce the exciting opportunity to serve as a Child Life Specialist on a medical mission trip. Missions are typically a week long.

In August, she will be supervising Child Life students on a mission to Mexico as Child Life United brings Child Life services to Florence Nightingale Global Health Missions .

This trip requires a fundraising effort to collect the teaching supplies and toys needed to meet the needs of the kids and their families. All trips provide medical care in grossly under served areas of the world. Please consider supporting this effort. Every sticker, ball and mask masks a difference.

She has created a Wish List on Amazon of supplies needed.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/307DPAFB2HQZG/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_2

If you are looking for a child life adventure abroad that will further your learning and expand your horizons, all in the service of easing the healthcare experiences of children, please contact Courtney at Child Life United to apply.

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We can’t wait to hear where she will be partnering next!

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Playing for Good: Touch-Tables in Hospitals

 

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Interview with guest Tom Bannon, Vice President, AFTER-MOUSE.COM on PLAY for Good, an initiative of AFTER-MOUSE.COM Twitter: @AFTER_MOUSE. I “met” Tom through an email when he read this blog and reached out to me. I think that his products are a great match for Child Life in Hospitals, so I offered to spotlight him on this blog. So, Heeeeeeeeeere’s Tom!

Tell us a little about who you are.

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I have been working in the technology and software licensing space for over 20 years. My career is about helping partners and customers make technology work for their business and their customers. Through my work, I have seen how technology can be transformative – making an experience more enjoyable for or helping connect people when communication barriers seemed impenetrable, among so many other benefits. I believe in my work, because I believe there is a lot of positive potential when technology is used for good.

What is AFTER-MOUSE.COM? How did you get involved with them?

AFTER-MOUSE.COM is a fast-growing industry leader in multi-touch technology applications. I joined five years ago to lead the U.S. sales team and be a part of business at the cutting-edge of multi-user collaborative technology.

We work with retail, real estate, automotive, financial, education, healthcare and other industries to provide unique customer experiences through interactive and collaborative touch-table applications. With more than 180 custom applications and 20 multi-touch, multi-player games for all age groups, our PLAY touch-table brings customers, families and colleagues together to experience truly collaborative activities. Whether it is in a waiting room or at a resort, our PLAY table delivers an experience that builds community and pure fun. Check out this video of guest using the PLAY table in a Novotel lobby: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40OniciXvDA

How did you get involved with Hospitals?

AFTER-MOUSE.COM has worked with hospitals and medical centers for more than 5 years. We have PLAY touch-tables in pediatric departments, waiting rooms and child life centers throughout the U.S. This is an important partnership for us as we work to promote the empowering and healing benefits of collaborative, playful learning.

Sometimes a hospital can be a scary and uncomfortable place for a child. Promoting collaborative, playful learning in these environments can provide positive emotional experiences and healing to help children cope.

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What are the benefits in your eyes of these interactive games? Any downsides?

The positive benefits of technology-based collaborative play inspired us to launch PLAY for Good, an AFTER-MOUSE.COM initiative working with partners to place multi-player touch-tables in nonprofit children’s hospitals and youth centers. The PLAY for Good team helps connect funders and donors with nonprofit hospitals and children’s health organizations that can use PLAY tables to promote collaborative play through our educational, multi-player children’s games.

Today, 91% of children between the ages of 2 and 17 play technology-based games. Despite the rapid uptake of technology, there is still little guidance on how to effectively harness technology as a tool for improving learning through play. Most guidance for children’s interaction with technology is based on “screen time,” the amount of time a child should spend looking at a digital screen. However, technology has progressed beyond the linear, sedentary relationship between child and screen, frequently thought of as watching television.

Technology-based play is not restricted to single user, sedentary experiences; rather technology can facilitate highly interactive and collaborative play activities that enable peer-to-peer learning. Unlike adult-child interactions, peer-to-peer learning allows for a balanced power dynamic which helps children refine planning, negotiation, and cooperation skills.

In a hospital environment, technology-based games can help a child cope with a stressful or uncomfortable situation. Children grappling with chemotherapy-related nausea or preoperative anxiety, for example, have had success playing technology-based games to help with emotional management.

What are your hopes for this product?

Our PLAY touch-table and children’s game bundle can provide entertainment to children in waiting rooms and lobbies – but they can also promote cognitive development, improves quality of life and can help a child manage emotional stress, when used appropriately.

In a world where technology is increasingly integrated into the way we live, we want to help promote the positive benefits it can yield. Interactive, technology-based collaborative, playful learning has changed the nature of children’s relationship with a device. When used appropriately, interactive technology can provide positive elements to children’s play and learning by facilitating exploration and experimentation in a dynamic digital multi-player experience.

What would you like Child Life Specialists to know about Play touch-tables?

We want to work together. While the body of research on the impact of technology-based play on child development is still in early stages, there is research confirming that, when used appropriately, interactive technology can be a valuable tool in promoting playful learning. PLAY touch-tables, when added to existing Child Life programs, have enhance a child’s experience in the hospital. Our PLAY for Good team understands the resources constraints of nonprofit organizations, so they can help identify funding opportunities with your development team and provide guidance on how the PLAY touch-table can be leveraged to support on-going fundraising goals through sponsorship programs.

Play for Good Program PDF

Tell us a bit about your international work.

We have worked with many companies around the world through our offices and partners in the US, Europe, Dubai and many other regions as well. We have now delivered projects in over 40 countries.  We continue to expand into new markets with our products.

 

Building Bridges Instead of Walls – Teaching & Learning in Mexico City

 

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One week post-election, I found myself bound for Mexico City, ready to teach and learn alongside my adventure colleague, Maria Busqueta. Marifer, (as I call her) hosted me in her home town, where she is a child life specialist, psychologist and educator. It was a whirlwind couple of days, as we visited the General de la Raza Hospital, learned about the Ayudarme a Sonreir ante el Cancer Foundation, The Vuela Foundation, taught a class on play techniques for adolescents, and attended a two-day conference on palliative care. Phew!

My first impressions of Mexico City and Marifer’s neighborhood: Unexpectedly cold and wet. Lovely hills rising up from the urban center. Cypress trees in plenty and Bougainvillea in bright, fuscea explosions amongst the trees and spilling down high stone retaining walls. Hilly, winding roads with speed bumps everywhere instead of stop signs. Heavy and erratic traffic. Cold mornings and nights. Marifer’s house has many levels to it, all encased in gingerbread auburn ceramic tiles. Like my home, the kitchen and living room are on the upper level, with bedrooms below. Marifer’s jaunty beagle, Duncan, lords over the front yard and threatens escape with each coming and going of a human being through the iron gate. Marifer’s mother cooks for us several times a day, filling me with homestyle Mexican fare. It is mere moments before I feel like family.

We are up bright and early my first full day there, ready to pay a visit to the Hospital Raza. Lisette Garcia Urenda, the founder of the Ayudarme a Sonreir ante el Cancer Foundation (which translates as “We help you smile after cancer”), is hosting us, and we meet her outside of the largest and oldest public hospital in all of Mexico. The sidewalks surrounding the building team with merchants hawking their wares, everything from pork roasting in a cauldron to magazines and fruit. We weave past the stalls and in through the back emergency entrance to the hospital. As we enter the foyer, several pediatric cancer patients and their families are exiting the hospital, bundled up for discharge and eager to be home. But they stop to hug, kiss and chat with Lisette. They shake our hands and offer “mucho gusto” as Lisette introduces us.

It is clear that the children and their caregivers adore Lisette. And it is easy to see why – she is all brightness, high energy and love. One teenage boy jokes for me to take him back to the United States with him. The younger children glance at us shyly.

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There are three events planned for the day, two presentations to patients and a therapeutic art activity to be conducted on the inpatient ward. The foundation grants wishes for pediatric cancer patients, and families have gathered to witness Lisette’s presentation of a wish to a young girl. They sit in tiny, child-sized plastic chairs around the parameter of an open roofed waiting area. The children sport face masks, bald heads, hats, and winter coats with good reason. It is cold.

The child is brought to the center of the room, and Lisette introduces her to everyone. I am regretting in the moment that I don’t understood more Spanish, but it seems that she is telling them how well the girl is doing post bone marrow transplant. With great flourish, Lisette hands the girl a large present. The child opens it with excitement and beams at its contents, an “alien” doll that  is apparently quite the rage. It’s hard not to note what a child with cancer might have in common with the toy. Both are bald; both might need to be isolated because of threatening germs in a hostile environment; both may need to be fed through a tube in the stomach. And, any child who has such a diagnosis may often feel like a misunderstood species hovering over the more typical lives of healthy peers.

The child hugs Lisette. The onlookers clap, and I wonder if they are envious of her.  Lisette explains to me that most of them will have a wish granted at some point, so that no child feels left out. Later, the child’s mother is crying in the hallway, sharing bad news with her social worker. Her daughter has relapsed. The bone marrow transplant didn’t take.

Lisette says that many of these children die, and that in order to do her work, she must get lots of therapy and continually study and obtain higher degrees. This is why she is a current student of Marifer’s. She does the work because when her father-in-law died, he told her that she must work for the forgotten children. She says that many of these children don’t have electricity in their homes.

The next planned event is the presentation of a natural hair wig made from five individual donations of hair. The recipient is a six-year-old girl. She is very shy and quiet. We are in a hall outside of the infusion clinic. The floors are buckled and seams of cement overflow the protruding tile. I wonder if this is from an earthquake. Nurses wear white and institutional green uniforms, donning plastic nursing caps in the same colors. I feel like I have stepped back into the 1950’s, except for the fact that they are all taking photos on their cell phones as Lisette presents the wig to the child.

Lisette speaks with the girl for quite some time. She reassures her that she needn’t speak if she doesn’t wish to, that they can communicate with their eyes. Lisette tells the child about the beauty of her heart, that the wig is just an accessory, that her beauty is not dependent on whether or not she has hair.

You must say to yourself every day in the mirror: “I am beautiful!”

The child tries on the wig and looks in a mirror provided by Lisette. Everyone poses for photos with her. In the end, her mother repacks the wig carefully in the box, and they are on their way.

Lisette leads us through a chaotic and crowded hallway to a packed elevator that carries us to the inpatient  pediatric oncology unit. In the hallway between two separate wings (one designated for solid tumors, the other for liquid), is a small but well equipped playroom. Siblings and patients mingle at child-sized tables. There are floor to ceiling shelves laden with cause and effect toys, a toy hospital, dollhouse, action figures (“for boys” says the playroom coordinator), blocks, puzzles, games and art materials. There is a large dollhouse in a corner, a kitchen play set, and several large bookcases overflowing with books. Lisette’s foundation supplies the  DVD lending library. One child sits with an adult working on a puzzle. Another plays with the dollhouse. A mothers group meets in the waiting room next door. The only thing I feel is missing is a medical play corner and sensory play materials. A flatscreen tv plays a Disney movie overhead.

Lisette has plans for an expressive arts activity. She brings us to the liquid tumor wing, into a room with six beds. Five children between the ages of two and fourteen seem excited to see Lissette and very open to our visit. The six-year-old boy is talkative and funny. After some quipping back and forth, Lisette hands out crayons and art paper to the children with a body outline on it.  But before she can begin to explain the instructions, the two year-old’s mother leaves the room, and the toddler begins to cry loudly and  inconsolably . She sits in her cage-like crib, crying desperately, reaching both arms up as if asking her absent mother to pick her up. Either that, or she is imploring the Gods to bring her mother back!

Lisette approaches with kind words, but the toddler is having none of it. She screams louder. Lisette offers her crayons and a “Frozen” coloring book. The child cries “No!” and turns away. Lisette is unperturbed. Using the surroundings, she jumps quickly into a bit of improv. The room has been newly decorated with a brightly colored mural on all four walls, ceiling to floor. It is a nature and farm scene. Near the girl’s bed, close to the floor, a mother duck swims with her three ducklings on a bright blue pond. Lisette launches into a conversation with the ducklings, turning her back on the toddler, lessening the child’s stranger anxiety by ceasing direct eye contact. She engages everyone in the room in asking the names of the ducks. She suggests the proffered names, and the little girl shakes her head in protest at each one. But she has stopped wailing and is watching Lissette intently. Lisette blocks the child’s view of the mother duck and tells a tale of the ducklings searching for their mother. She reassures the girl that her mommy will always return. We all sing the song “Five Little Ducks”. Lisette offers the coloring book again, asking, “May I put it on your bed?” The child accepts and begins to color.

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Lisette conducts the art activity with success. She speaks to the children about the variety of emotions we all have. She says they will play a coloring game based on a game called “Basta!” (enough). She takes turns calling out emotions, and each time they must grab a crayon and color within the body outline to represent where and how much of that emotion they have until Lisette yells, “Basta!” Lisette is very lively and whips the kids up into a coloring frenzy. She begins with the emotions of fear, anger, and sadness, and ends with love and joy. I am sitting with the toddler, who is methodically drawing many tiny, blue circles on each page of her coloring book, while she listens and glances at the other children. She watches closely as a nurse enters the room and approaches the six-year-old. The boy grins and says, “It’s good that you are here. My IV is backing up.” The nurse adjusts his IV, then moves over to the toddler, preparing medicine in a syringe without a needle. The toddler opens her mouth complacently to receive it without complaint.

The fourteen-year-old has gone for a walk. I had noticed when I entered the room that she didn’t appear physically ill. She has all of her hair, and is not connected to an IV. She wore a contented, cheerful expression while she chatted on her cell phone. Soon, it is time for us to move on. The teen has returned to her bed. We all pose for photos. All the children except the toddler smile. She still appears a bit somber.  I am the first to leave the room, and the teen’s caregiver follows me and grabs my arm in the hallway. She asks if I understand Spanish and begins to pour out a story to me that even with my broken Spanish, I can piece together. She is not the teen’s mother, but her aunt.

Two weeks prior, she, her two sisters and family members were traveling by car in a caravan. There was a horrible crash. The teen’s mother and father were killed. Her brother lies in critical condition in the ICU. Although the teen was unharmed, the tests she underwent at the hospital revealed that she has cancer. She had only just learned of her parents’ deaths the day before. I struggle to match that news with the image of the calm, smiling teen I’d met. Was she in shock? Denial? Is it her Faith in action?

The aunt shows me photos on her phone of her family, as well as a video about a teen whose mother dies. She says she is a Jehovah’s Witness and believes that we will all see our loved ones again after death. I tell her that I will carry her family in my heart.  I think about how much good healthcare in hospitals involves helping patients and families to tell their stories. This seems true in every country I visit. And in every country thus far, families don’t hesitate to share their stories with a stranger. Perhaps it is easier to tell a stranger. But it is more than that. This woman, and others I have met, seem compelled to share their narratives, as if we couldn’t stop them if we tried.

Leaving the hospital, I am sad, exhausted and hopeful in equal measures. Lisette’s work makes a mark. Listening makes a difference. The children won’t be forgotten by us. Shared stories tear down cultural walls.

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Child Life in the Community: Fiddlehead Care Farm

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Guest Blogger: Breanne Mathers from Fiddlehead Care Farm

As an inpatient CCLS focused on Brain Injury and Complex Continuing Care, I worked for 9 years at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital but, in 2015, I found a new home for my child life skills outside the hospital walls. My business partner, Stephanie Deaken, a registered social worker, and I opened Fiddlehead Care Farm (FCF) in Ontario, Canada. FCF is a 50 acre fully accessible organic farm which provides innovative therapy for children, youth, and young adults with special needs to help them reach their potential and become their best selves. The programs are targeted at improving children’s physical, spiritual, psychosocial and mental health.

FCF’s mission is to give kids and their families the opportunity to learn, experience and grow without boundaries through animal-assisted therapy and nature-based education, rehabilitation and recreation. We aim to harness the healing and calming properties of nature to improve quality of life and restore the mind, body and spirit.

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