Learning from Hospital Play Specialist Hideko Konagaya in Japan


While teaching in Shizuoka, Japan, I had the pleasure of spending a morning with Hideko Konagaya, a hospital play specialist, at Shizuoka General Hospital.

Hideko hosted Maria Busqueta  (a child life specialist and psychologist from Mexico City) and me in her bright and cheery playroom. Professor Chika Matsudaira of Shizuoka University assisted us by translating so that we could all communicate.

When we entered the playroom, two preschoolers already sat at a small table busily making slime. The children and their mothers gave us permission to photograph them.

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Now I have made slime in my play course, but never slime as lovely as this! Hideko had set out brightly colored water in several plastic cups. She provided the boys with small glass jars (recycled baby food jars) and chopsticks for stirring. One at a time, Hideko and the children added rice glue, orange or lime essential oil for fragrance, sodium borate, and  a magical touch of glitter. The mixture came together to create a wonderful substance that smelled amazing and was positively addictive – no one could put it down or stop playing. The boys stirred like mad, and then ran the slime through their fingers until it hardened enough to hold shape. They used cookie cutters and plastic tools to manipulate it. I broke a cardinal rule of mine and touched one of the boy’s slime without asking. I just couldn’t help myself! He was a very good sport. Continue reading

A Day with Hospital Play Specialist Kazue Goto in Japan


One of the best parts of my trip to Japan was the fact that I  learned more than I taught. Yes, I traveled there as a child life professor to teach play techniques to hospital play specialists (HPS). But they had just as many wonderful techniques to share with me, and I cannot wait to incorporate them into my teaching repertoire here in the States.

On our first day in Tokyo, Kazue Goto hosted Maria Busqueta and me at the National Rehabilitation Center for Children with Disabilities for a day of play with the inpatients on their orthopedic ward. She had prepared the children for our visit, and one by one, they approached us, shook our hands Western style, and introduced themselves by name. Kazue presented us with handmade name tags written in Japanese.

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I taught the kids how to play the American game “Spot It!”, and Maria taught them how to play Mexican Lotteria. We all made volcanoes together, and then the fun REALLY began. Kazue taught us all how to make poop.

Yes, you heard it right — we all made poop out of bran cereal. The activity is designed to teach kids about their digestive systems. Many hospitalized children have issues with constipation or diarrhea, and this activity brings up helpful discussion about self care and gives children a chance to normalize something that can cause great pain and embarrassment. Continue reading

Play the Japanese Way


Trepidation was the word of the day as I prepared to teach play techniques in Japan. How would I  cope with teaching in eight hour increments to students and professionals whose primary language was Japanese?  How would the participants respond to me? I barely ever lecture at Bank Street College, but here it would be the expected modality of teaching. I worried for my students who would have to listen to my English first before Chika Matsudaira, my hosting professor,  translated everything I said.

But I should know by now that everything works out in the end. Here are some highlights from the four groups we taught, some new to the profession, others in it for years. They included students, hospital play specialists, nurses, nursing administrators, nursery nurses (early education professionals working in hospitals), occupational and physical therapists and one child life specialist. In the span of 5 days, we taught a total of 91 people. The photos and video footage below include scenes from all 4 classes.

The first group in Shizuoka were new hospital play specialist (HPS) students who had travelled from all over the country, and the day began with a ceremony welcoming them to Shizuoka University. The university president and administrators attended, as did a local reporter. The students first appeared very serious and somber. Here is the before shot taken during the ceremony:


But we all warmed up to each other pretty quickly. Here we are at the end of the second day.


Thanks to the reporter, an article featuring our class appeared in the next day’s Shizuoka paper.


We began with my theory of a “Play Needs Continuum”. It describes 9 ways to deepen play opportunities for children in hospitals. Chika had translated my power point into Japanese.  When we spoke of raising awareness about the value of play, students paired off to share play memories from childhood.

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When we addressed the use of self as a distraction tool to use during medical procedures, we all shared songs  and hand games from our cultures (click on bold green to see videos). Maria Busquetta from Mexico got everyone singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in Japanese, which impressed everyone very much. I taught them the invisible needle and thread trick.

When we needed to move our bodies to keep alert, Chika demonstrated “laughter therapy”. On most days, I started the day with the game “whoosh”, where the group passes an imaginary ball around a circle making sound effects as they go along. I had never tried this with more than 15 students, but it worked well even with the large group of 40 from Tokyo. Their improv skills with action and sound effects were great.

The students enjoyed making volcanoes (Kaduson, 1997), throwing wet toilet paper at a drawing of things which angered and frightened them (Kaduson, 1997), making oobleck and playing with shaving cream. Rolling up their sleeves to play helped them understand first hand the value of these techniques for hospitalized children.





The students traced one another on paper and dry erase board for the “Wonders of the World”  activity (Carman, 2004). This activity helps traumatized kids and teens find hope and connect with a vision of the future as they draw what they would like to see with their eyes, smell, hear, taste, do/make with their hands, and where their feet will take them.

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And last, but not least, we  demonstrated and practiced child-centered play techniques (Landreth 2012).

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The students were so willing and playful that the eight hours flew by each day. I have no doubt that children will be playing their hearts out throughout hospitals in Japan where these folks are training and working. Playing the Japanese way is a wonderful way to go.

Deconstructing Walls


Earlier this week, I blogged about teaching play techniques to students and professionals in the Czech Republic. I find myself still processing everything I saw and heard while in this beautiful country, and I am reluctant to leave it all behind, even as I prepare for my next journey abroad which is rapidly approaching in a few weeks.

“What one thing really stuck with you?” a friend asked me yesterday. It was hard to pick one thing, as so much is still reverberating. And the words to describe what I experienced are flitting just out of reach somewhere in my jet lagged brain.

Czech countryside

I keep coming back to our three-hour road trip to the nursing school in Nový Jičin. Jiri is driving, and I ride shot-gun, the windshield framing the Czech countryside that slips by us, leaving swaths of  wild poppies, rich green pastures and elven forests and  in our wake. But it’s not the view that resonates with me. Continue reading

Teaching Playwork in the Czech Republic

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I could not have asked for a more thoughtful welcome to the Czech Republic. Disembarking the plane in Prague after my overnight journey,  I was greeted by the Královec family bearing an American flag and sweet smelling purple flowers from their garden in Malejovice.IMG_3975

Jiri and Markéta Královec, the founders and directors of the Kliček Foundation, generously sponsored my visit to teach play techniques to hospital workers at several locations in their lovely country. I had the honor of teaching one seminar at Charles University in Prague. Founded in 1348, it is the oldest and largest university in the Czech Republic and Central Europe. I was also welcomed at the Mendelova nursing school in Nový Jičin. My students ranged from a mixed group of working hospital play specialists, nurses, teachers and social workers at the university, to young students at the nursing school (our equivalent of high school students). All of the students were bright and enthusiastic learners.

Work felt like play as we all rolled up our sleeves for some interactive lessons. I demonstrated loose parts work as well as activities to share with angry or withdrawn children, such as making volcanos and oobleck, as well as toilet paper targets. Continue reading

Loose Parts Play in the UK

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Cath Hubbuck is a Registered Hospital Play Specialist in the UK. She authored Play for Sick Children — Play Specialists in Hospitals and Beyond in 2009. After 9 years in the field, she is currently a stay-at-home mother to four small children. She keeps up her skills volunteering on the pediatric neurology ward of a large children’s hospital. Cath attended a conference presentation of mine two years ago, and has been an avid fan of loose parts since then. When she recently shared some photos of a loose parts intervention on FaceBook, I encouraged her to share the backstory of the photos. Here it is in her own words.

“On one Monday morning, I visited Christopher, a seven year old boy who was due to be inpatient for five days throughout which he would be the subject of a Video EEG (VEEG). This required him to be wired up to epilepsy monitoring equipment for 24 hours a day, via a continuous video recording (and hopefully documenting an epileptic absence or seizure) and approximately 23 electrodes glued to his head, neck and chest.

I had only dropped in to find out what sort of activities he wanted at his bedside, but as I arrived he was having his last few electrodes attached and was beginning to wriggle a little. I stayed and just talked with him as the Neurophysiologist finished the job – an informal distraction, if you like – but then Christopher suddenly grabbed his much loved Rabbit and said “Rabbit needs some wires, too!” Continue reading

Caring in Cameroon

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When we observe anything in this world, our perspective is tightly interconnected with our cultural context. As we grow from the egocentrism of childhood to a more expansive view as adults, we may see that not everyone comes from our circumstances, shares our belief system or our way of doing things. At the age of 52, I was a late bloomer in my foray into other cultures. But travel to New Zealand and the Palestinian Territories in 2014, and speaking at the first International Summit on Pediatric Psychosocial Services began a process that continues today. I have learned that “Child Life” has many names and forms across the globe.

As I cast a wide net with my blog, trying to see how I can do the most good, it occurred to me that I could use it as a platform for getting out the good word about what people are doing in other countries to make life better for children in and out of hospitals. So every so often, I will choose a country and share the story of a colleague who is holding the torch of kindness to dispel the darkness of fear and pain for sick children.

My first spotlight is on Macdonald Doh, my honorary son and a head nurse in the Emergency Department of the Yaounde Gynaeco-Obstetrics and Pediatric Hospital in Cameroon, Africa. I met him at the CLC Summit where he represented his country along with 45 delegates from all over the world.  In Cameroon, there is one doctor to every 10,000 people, as compared with 2.4 doctors per 1,000 in the USA. Continue reading