Driving the Camel: Installment #8

 

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Homesick

 

Once the conference began, I was surrounded by like-minded professionals, everyone eager to learn and share.  In order to earn my keep, I was slotted to present three times on three topics, the first a workshop on play techniques to use with angry or withdrawn children. The audience was receptive and participants volunteered readily to assist me in demonstrating several activities. They shared what made them angry, hurled wet toilet paper at a paper target, and erupted a play dough volcano with glee.  Continue reading

Driving the Camel: Installment #7

 

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Chapter 6: 17 Time Zones

Three planes and over 24 hours later, the North Island of New Zealand came into view as the plane made its way down through the clouds and circled for a landing. Excitement began to tilt the scales of anxiety as I disembarked and made my way through customs. Robyn, a member of the conference planning committee, had planned to meet me and escort me to the hotel. I scanned the group of people awaiting loved ones. I assumed that Robyn would be holding a placard with my name on it. No such luck. I milled around for about five minutes, before I heard a woman’s voice calling me.

“Dib?” her New Zealand accent changing e’s into i’s. Her cheerful smile and mom-like warmth were exactly what I needed to see,

I hugged her like a long lost friend.

“I can’t believe you came all this way to speak at our little conference!” she exclaimed, brushing her hand through her pageboy light brown hair.

“How could I turn down such a wonderful invitation?” I answered.

Robyn’s generosity along with that of the other conference planners was pleasantly overwhelming. The initial invitation to speak at the conference came from Marianne, the founder of the Hospital Play Association in New Zealand. Via e-mail, without ever having met me, she made an astounding offer. Not only were they going to pay my way to come to New Zealand, but she had heard that I was writing a book. She owned a house at Lang’s Beach on the North Island and asked if I would like to stay on for a month to do some writing. The dream of this house had been a rallying point for me during medical treatment. I would lie on the linear accelerator table receiving daily doses of radiation and picture my toes in the sand and a journal in my lap.

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My hotel room on the upper floor overlooked the city harbor, where fleets of sailing boats graced the waters. A gift basket of New Zealand teas welcomed me as I entered the room. I unpacked and fell happily into the king-sized bed and slept.

Marianne was a wonderful host in Auckland. She supplied me with a list of places to go and things to do. She picked me up at the hotel the morning after my arrival and we toured some volcanoes, along with Robyn’s Hospital Play department at the local hospital.

The volcanoes were lovely and afforded great views, but nerd that I am, I loved seeing the lay of the land in Robyn’s hospital even more.  In New Zealand, hospital play specialists have different training than American child life specialists. For the most part, they have backgrounds in early childhood education, and certification through the Hospital Play Specialist Association. Their departments are funded by both the Department of Health and the Department of Education, and their programs must meet the curricular requirements of early childhood education.  This allows for an approach steeped in a thorough grasp of child development and how children learn.

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I was pleased to see that every one of the hospital playrooms mirrored best practice in early childhood education.  Each playroom recognized the bicultural nature of the country, embracing literacy and cultural objects from both the tangata whenua (people of the land – Māori) and the tangata tiriti (the people there by virtue of the Treaty of Waitangi – non-Māori). A huge handmade sign welcomed visitors in several languages, including  English, Maori, Samoan, Hindi, and French. Beneath it stood a table laden with baskets. Each basket held items from nature, shells, rocks, pinecones,  inviting exploration and touch. Continue reading

Hospital Play in Iceland

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After the 99 degree weather in Japan, travel to Iceland called for wooly socks and a winter hat. During my first day in Reykjavik, I met with Dr. Drífa Björk Guðmundsdóttir, a psychologist who served as her country’s delegate at the first global summit on psychosocial pediatric care in 2014. She hosted me at Landspitali, the National University Hospital of Iceland.

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Our morning together included a tour of the pediatric inpatient unit, physical therapy department, clinic and NICU, and  an hour spent in conversation with some of Dr. Drifa’s colleagues, a physical therapist, hospital play specialist, nurse, nurse manager and social worker from a non-profit agency that serves hospitalized children and their families. We discussed best practice for helping parents support and prepare their children for hospitalization. It was clear to me that these professionals held many of the same values and goals for supporting children that we have in the US.

I enjoyed our conversation tremendously, but I must admit, I treasured my time with Sigurbjörg Guttormsdóttir (thankfully nicknamed Sibba, but pronounced “Sippa”!).  Sibba is one of the two hospital play specialists, and she has worked at the hospital for 25 years. A kindergarten teacher who received training in Sweden and Oregon, she wrote a thesis on play materials to use with children.  Sibba welcomed me to her playroom and proudly shared its history and resources, inviting me to sit down and play almost immediately.

Here is the game of choice, Rush Hour.

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Continue reading

Learning from Hospital Play Specialist Hideko Konagaya in Japan

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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

Play the Japanese Way

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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:

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

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

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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.

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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.