Children Ponder Good & Evil at Camp Klicek

 

CIMG2244

We are all capable of good and evil.  People do bad things – sometimes they make mistakes that cause harm unwittingly. Sometimes they hurt others purposefully. Sometimes, doing nothing causes more pain for others than we can possibly imagine. At Camp Klicek in Malejovice, Czech Republic, founders Jiri and Marketa Královcovi make room for children to discuss and think about tough issues. They want kids in their care to be more than followers and simplistic thinkers, to see the humanity in everyone and the possibility that although conflict might be inevitable when a large group of people gather, people can make mistakes and still not be bad people.

And so, on one bright summer morning, following a hearty breakfast of porridge, bread, tomatoes, peppers, tea and hot carob with milk, the adults at camp led the children in an activity that reverberated throughout the week. The children gathered in small groups by age bracket. Some sat in the meadow, some under the mess tent, others in the courtyard. With adult guidance, they contemplated these questions:

  • What are bad or evils things?
  • Why do people do them?
  • What can be done about it?

The children took the assignment seriously, taking notes and including the voices of all. I moved amongst the groups, catching a snippet here and there from a kind translator. The children mentioned everything from the past and present atrocities of the world to the more mundane, including genocide, torture, terrorism and bullying on their lists. The youngest camper, when asked why people do bad things, answered, “Because they don’t love each other.”

At the end of the small group conversations, each group reported out to the whole camp, as we sat in the shade of the mess tent and processed together. The discussions were the scaffolding for the real fun. The next step of this activity involved each group choosing one of their examples, writing a play script to demonstrate the concept, and videotaping the enactment. The kids were deeply involved in this process throughout the day, and that night, they set up an outdoor theater in the courtyard, complete with a movie screen, the moon shining down upon us, and homemade apple strudel made from the summer apples, the Klicek version of popcorn. We smacked our lips and licked our fingers as we watched the completed movies, along with some movies created in past years.

My favorite play depicted two different families heading off to summer camp.  One family had no luggage or sleeping bags, just the clothes on their backs. The mother handed her children 10 crowns apiece and kissed them goodbye. The other family stood in front of a Mercedes Benz with their fancy clothes, belongings, cell phones, and the mother dolling out hundreds of crowns to each child. The scenario played out with the rich kids arriving at camp, immediately making fun of the poor kids, an act of kindness when one of them falls down and the other helps them up, and all of the kids ending up playing a game of football (soccer in the US) together.

A simple message, but one not lost on any of us. The campers did indeed come from a variety of backgrounds, and would probably not be interacting at school or in social circles outside of this camp environment. When I think of acts of evil, I think about how we create separation by dehumanizing people who we label as “other.” It is harder to keep these stereotypes and misconceptions in place when we wake, sing, break bread, play, and rest our heads together in the same teepee. I saw many acts of kindness each day between campers, whether it was an older child helping another child navigate steep steps, the hard work of the volunteers in our kitchen, or folks pitching in to help a teen search for her lost eyeglasses.

The thoughtful planning applied to activities that built community astounded me. Along with a mess kit and clothes, the camp packing list asked each child and adult to bring a glass jar with a lid to camp. The campers decorated these jars with their names and artwork, and hung them by ribbons on the branch of a low tree in the meadow behind the house. They left messages of appreciation in each jar, to adults and kids alike throughout the weeks. At the end of camp, they each took their jar with them, with strict instructions to hold off on opening it until they had arrived home. Marketa said that this is a concrete way to further the bonds created at camp. “Some of these children are isolated because of their illnesses. These jars and their notes are a lifeline for them throughout the year.”

My jar sits on my desk at home and reminds me of the generosity of spirit that children share so willingly. I can see why these campers return year after year to the meadow, the tree and the love.

IMG_6072

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camp Klicek: A Dose of Nature and the Universal Language of Play

IMG_6083

I remember the endless swath of time that summer brought when I was a young child. Unstructured free time in nature, with neighborhood kids, and my family. I also played alone, exploring the back roads on my bike and the woods on foot. At the age of seven, I would be gone for hours, playing in brooks, creating forts under the shelter of giant boulders, climbing trees, making up stories in my head, and writing poetry.

These days, we are hard put to find children at play in this kind of open-ended, unsupervised milieu. Their play is planned, highly structured by adults, and often close-ended. When left to their own devices, kids often choose tablets, smart phones and video games as their go to. Child life specialists and hospital play specialists know the value of deep, open-ended play that encourages self-expression, exploration, self-regulation, social development, and problem solving. My friends at the Klicek Foundation in the Czech Republic provide these play opportunities at their summer camp for children and families affected by illness and loss. This year, they invited me to partake in a unique camp experience, and I immersed myself in the healing environment of Camp Klicek, which has been in operation since 1992.

 

Children after a long-term therapy (and sometimes even patients under treatment, if their health allows it) take part in the camp, as well as their friends, siblings, parents and pets. Several bereaved families come too.

Our camp activities began as an attempt to offer a two-week stay in beautiful natural surrounding also to those children who couldn’t participate in a “normal” summer camp. We have always tried to create a friendly, open-hearted and open-minded atmosphere in our camps, and we hope that the camp program gives its participants enough opportunities to have fun, to do some useful work, to talk about things that are important to them, to simply be with friends.

The camp games and plays (mostly non-competitive) follow the make-believe story of a man who decided to spend some time with nature and is thus confronted with new situations and thoughts and starts to meditate on his own life and on the civilization he lives in.

Children live in big Indian “tee-pee” tents which are able to accommodate up to six inhabitants and have a fireplace inside.

Since 2000, we organize our camps on a meadow just behind the respite hospice building at Malejovice – thanks to this, children whose condition requires special attention can also participate in the camp program, backed by the safe environment of our house.

 

    klicek.org

 

Indeed, I found myself amidst a remarkable mix of campers and staff, a combination of people and circumstances that is hard to imagine anywhere else. The youngest camper was seven years of age, the oldest, twenty. The children’s diagnoses differed significantly, as did their abilities, disabilities, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. There were children undergoing treatment, survivors of serious illness, siblings, friends, parents, and bereaved parents who had lost a child. The camp leaders, Jiri and Marketa, are purposeful in their choice to bring children and adults together where they might not otherwise interact in larger society. Watching connections form between the campers and staff of varied backgrounds was a blessing on so many levels.

The focus of our days involved living in nature, eating good, healthy food, exploring tough topics such as “What is evil?” and “How can we make the hospital experience more pleasant?”, and above all, building community. The virtual lack of technology at camp was so refreshing. I felt myself detoxing from my smartphone addiction as I wrapped myself in nature, old fashioned, simple play, and grand company.

Many friends have asked me what it was like for me to be surrounded by children who spoke Czech. Did I learn any Czech? How did I communicate with them? Well, I was immersed in a foreign language – of that there is no doubt. Most children spoke no more than a few words or phrases in English, and my Czech is abysmal. But the children understand more English than they speak, and play is a universal language.  The children’s welcoming of me was profound, inviting me into play, making me feel immediately part of the group. “Frisbee?” “Will you play?” “Come play football.” “Ping pong?” “Draw.” Once engaged in a game or project, there was much good will and laughter as we all tried our best to communicate.

I too, grew my Czech vocabulary one word and gesture at a time. I made it my goal over the week to learn everyone’s name – a challenging feat with names that were not familiar to me.  But with each name and greeting, I could see the rapport growing, the shy kids responding, the teens warming. Some of my favorite moments were when I would board the 1970’s retro bus for a field trip, and a kid would smile at me and pat the seat beside them to show they’d been saving it for me. Or that wonderful moment, when the quietest camper, one who spent much time alone and looked down or sideways rather than meeting your gaze, took my hand as I stepped off the bus and walked quietly with me to our destination.

It’s the small stuff, really.

CIMG2103

Children berry picking on a picnic in Czech countryside

 

IMG_6421

Klicek Foundation cofounder Marketa leading us in a trivia game in the camp’s mess tent, where we ate all of our meals.

IMG_6453

Handgames

In my next several posts, I will dive deeper into some of the activities we did, the games we played, the lessons I learned.

 

Free Talk: Medical Play Therapy & Child Life

Bank Street College Library

Presents…

Library Salon #15

Friday, March 9, 2018

5:30 to 7:30 pm

A panel discussion with child life practitioners
and alumni contributors to:

Moderated by: Troy Pinkney-Ragsdale, MA, CCLS, has over 25 years of experience in the field of Child Life, including directing several child life programs in the tri-state area. She has served as the director of the Child Life Masters Program at Bank Street College since 2004. She has been a member of the Association of Child Life Professionals, served as the Co-chair of Graduate Accreditation Task Force and member(2012-2014),  served as Director on the Board (2015-2017) and has been a member of the Education and Training Committee for many years.

Panelists:

Lawrence C. Rubin, PhD, the editor of the Handbook of Medical Play Therapy and Child Life, is a professor of counselor education at St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida, and an online lecturer at the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Rubin is a practicing psychologist in Fort Lauderdale, where he specializes with children, teens, and their families.
Jon Luongo, MS, CCLS, is a Bank Street graduate, past adjunct instructor, a delegate with 1199 Healthcare Workers’ Union, and a child life specialist at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. He began his career in healthcare as a performer in the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit in 1997.
Suzanna Paisley, MS, CCLS, is a Bank Street graduate, a parent of two young children, and a child life specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. She has lectured on trauma processing with children of all ages at national child life conferences.
Deborah Vilas, MS, CCLS, LMSW, is a Bank Street graduate, a current faculty member, a writer and a public speaker. She has taught play techniques to child life students, hospital play specialists, nursing students, social workers and psychologists in 6 countries around the world.

Patty Weiner, MS, is a mother and grandmother whose career spans over 35 years as a child life specialist and educator. She is the founding director of Bank Street’s Child Life Program and is an educational consultant for The Making Headway Foundation in NYC.

Library Salons are a series of informal lectures, panels, and group discussions
held after hours on Friday evenings.Refreshments Provided#BankStreetLibrarySalon

Copyright © 2018 Bank Street College of Education, All rights reserved.

unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences

51-1oItVeWL._AC_US218_

 

Click Here and Scroll down to Register and for access to live stream link

Get Well Maps: Road to Recovery

ChildInspired-2

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.

IMG_0635

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.

IMG_0618

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.

IMG_4803

IMG_4802

IMG_4804

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

DSCF2017

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.

DSCF2016

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.

images-2

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.”

Prescription for Play: How Pediatric Play Promotes Health and Healing

I was honored and so excited to be interviewed by Photographer & Guest Writer, Marj Kleinman for her article at TocaBoca.com. She and I have much in common, including a deep passion for child life and play in hospitals, and the fact that we are both alums from Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, NY. She is a talented artist and used her creativity to write a photo journal of child life and play at Maimonides Hospital. I will publish that here next week. The Toca Boca article is reprinted here in full below.

Child life specialists support kids and families in a hospital environment, reducing stress and increasing joy.

Marj Kleinman
BY
Marj Kleinman, Toca Magazine Guest Writer

When I tell someone that I volunteer in pediatric hospitals, I usually spot a sad face across from me. That response is understandable, given that hospitals can be scary and sometimes painful and upsetting. But in fact, there’s no greater place to see joy and resilience on display, all through kids’ natural passion for play.

Whether at their doctor’s office or in the ER, kids find a way to play, particularly with encouragement. Most children’s hospitals today come equipped with a playroom and a bevy of materials and activities, so kids can be kids while hospitalized. Once they see a playroom full of toys, messy finger paints and a silly guy blowing bubbles, they know this place is made for them and they will probably feel safe there. There’s even a team of people whose job is to play with your child: the child life specialists. They become parents’ partners in health and healing.

Meet the child life team: Your play partners

Many parents are surprised to learn that there’s a person solely focused on your child’s emotional health during a hospital stay — and they do it mainly through play. Child life specialists (CLSs) help kids and families adapt to the hospital environment and support them in understanding what’s taking place, thereby reducing the stress of a hospitalization. CLSs are trained in child development and play theory, as well anatomy, research methodology, sociocultural issues, ethics, family systems and bereavement, among other things. They also act as a bridge and advocate with your medical team. Child life departments often include art and music therapists, and are visited by yoga and mindfulness teachers, clowns and other practitioners.

Language of play

Play is the universal language of childhood — in fact, when CLSs assess their patients, they’re watching how kids communicate via play. I spoke to Deborah B. Vilas, a CLS and social worker who teaches child life graduate students at Bank Street College of Education. Vilas says, “Young children won’t sit down and say, ‘I felt sad today and I think I’m anxious about the medical treatment I’m getting.’ When children are playing, they act out scenarios and show us what they’re feeling; they show us what they understand, what they’re capable of and what their coping mechanisms are.” This may seem obvious, but in some hospitals, there’s a misconception that play is frivolous or low on the priority totem pole.

Young children won’t sit down and say, ‘I felt sad today and I think I’m anxious about the medical treatment I’m getting.’

Vilas reminds us, “It’s been proven that when children have play opportunities that they need less medicine, less anesthesia, are more compliant and get better faster. The benefits of play reach beyond the child to assist medical personnel and influence the hospital’s bottom line.”

Benefits of play

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.” Why would all that stop at the hospital? The AAP goes on to state that hospital play is a necessity that helps kids cope with treatment and stay on track, developmentally. The uses and benefits of play in medical settings are varied and significant.

At its essence, play provides a safe space for kids to experiment with unfamiliar and often scary experiences. Through open-ended play, kids can take in new information at their own pace, re-create situations and play out fears until they are familiar enough to gain a sense of mastery over the situation. When supported by an empathetic parent or CLS, this process is deepened and they can better process and release feelings.

At its essence, play provides a safe space for kids to experiment with unfamiliar and often scary experiences.

Open-ended and child-centered play, in particular, are highly beneficial, as they provide opportunities for kids to immerse themselves more deeply in play and lead from a sense of agency. Unfortunately, free play has been on the decline due to our hurried and jam-packed, overscheduled and tech-filled lifestyles, yet it is necessary for skill development, self-regulation, independent thinking and creative problem solving. In the hospital, where kids lack choices, it’s even more crucial to let kids be in charge.

Medical play

One of the roles of the CLS is to normalize the hospital experience through play. They might do familiarization activities, for example, building a robot using a bedpan, tongue depressors and IV tubing, all taped together with bandages. Suddenly medical supplies aren’t scary, cold, weird objects that only doctors and nurses use, and kids can “hack” the hospital.

Going a step further, medical play with a toy doctor’s kit and/or real medical supplies can 1.) educate children about an upcoming procedure, 2.) let them process their experience, before, during or after a procedure, and 3.) put the child back in the driver’s seat.

hospital_play_meghan_2

Meghan Amorosa, CLS, engages Jan, age 4, in medical play at Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, N.Y. Photo by Marj Kleinman.
 

Children experience a strong sense of helplessness, vulnerability and anxiety when faced with uncertainty and misconceptions (let’s face it, so do grownups). Procedural support helps educate, greatly reducing feelings of unpredictability, and increases a level of mastery.

Meghan Amorosa, child life specialist at Brooklyn Hospital Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., says, “A really big part of medical play is about giving patients choice and control over their own hospital experience. Instead of being the patient, they become the doctor and play on their own little patient.” She observed that Jan (pictured above) gave the doll a lot of shots, which is typical in patients who’ve been poked a lot. In fact, “If a kid gives a doll a million shots, they’re showing you how painful that was for him,” says Vilas.

A really big part of medical play is about giving patients choice and control over their own hospital experience.

Movement plays a key role in healing.

Movement also plays a key role in healing, which is why doctors want patients up and walking almost right after surgery. If kids can get out of bed and step on bubble wrap or a floor piano, ride a hospital wagon around the unit, or skate down the hallway on their IV pole, they get the blood circulating, feel more energized and also empowered at the same time.

Play is powerful and can be tailored towards your child’s individual age, temperament and tastes. Read on to find out 10 ways to support kids going to the hospital, as patients or visitors.

Marj Kleinman is a Brooklyn based photographer and children’s media producer with a master’s in educational psychology.

Medical Play: Modeling Empathy for your Child

file_000

Colleague and friend, Teresa Schoell, is a child life specialist in upstate New York. She is featured in  “That’s Child Life!” , a video published by the Child  Life Council. She is also, first and foremost, a mother to Malcolm. She posted this story on FaceBook today, and with her permission (and Malcolm’s), I wanted to share it with all of you.

I just finished performing surgery on one of Malcolm’s beloved stuffies (a gift from the dear Justinn Walker). Apparently, JC the Lobster was quite anxious about the procedure, hiding in Malcolm’s arms while I threaded my needle.

“I’m scared it’s going to hurt,” came JC’s voice (with a marked similarity to Malcolm’s falsetto).

Then I heard Malcolm’s reassuring voice “Don’t worry, JC, we’ll give you sleep medicine so you don’t feel anything. Would a hug help you feel brave?”

A few hugs and and some invisible anesthesia later, the lobster was open on my table (prepped and draped in the usual sterile fashion….which is to say, laying on a couch cushion on my lap) Today’s procedure was to repair the distal fracture to the bendy wire in the patient’s left antenna, which supports movement and pose-ability.

Under general anesthesia I opened and peeled back the fabric, revealing the damaged wire. The sharp wire bits were realigned and repaired use med-surg duct tape, reinserted into the fabric, and sealed with a running subcuticular suture (sewed on the inside for a near-invisible scar). Procedure complete in 15 minutes with minimal stuffing loss. Patient resting comfortably.

 

I commend how Teresa invested in Malcolm’s powers of imagination and attachment by treating JC the Lobster with the respect one would give a live patient. When parents take their child’s attachments and emotional needs seriously, they model empathy, the glue that holds our society together.

file_001

Doll Ambassadors: Providing Comfort to Kids with Cancer

20160716-151336-bee-hdr_1_orig

Guest Blogger: Rosanna Bernstein – Founder of Bee Brave Buddies

When I had cancer and was going through chemotherapy, a white, curly haired stuffed poodle that one of my daughters gave me sat right on the pillow next to me at all times. I named her Gigi. Just looking at the quirky turned-up smile on this puppy`s face always gave me a feeling of comfort and made me smile.

I was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia in 1998. I was in treatment for 3 years and was becoming sicker. A trial in its second phase for a new chemotherapy medication, specific for CML, now called Gleevec, was in its early stages at that time.  I was eventually accepted into this trial, and within several months I went into a remission. This chemotherapy was one of the first magic bullets, a medication targeted to treat the specific genetic mutation.  Although I still take a chemotherapy pill each evening, I have been so fortunate to be healthy and in remission to this day.

I was so grateful, that I decided I wanted to help others.

Through the years I have had several businesses: Yummy Gram, a gourmet basket company, Rosanna Hope Designs, a millinery and hand bag design company and Baby Bonbons, an online shop with vintage lace children`s clothing designs and accessories. During this time, I designed many original designs for baby blankets and matching pillows for the Baby Bonbons shop. I have always had a passion for art, beautiful laces and fabrics.

But, puppy Gigi always lurked in the back of my mind. I could still see that funny little face, and I got a warm feeling each time I thought about Gigi. I remember the soothing, inner peace I felt snuggling her. This feeling gave me the idea to combine my love of art and design with my desire to give back.

I combined my love for fabric and my whimsical children’s digital art drawings to design my original three Bee Brave Buddies dolls: Buddy Brave, a superhero doll for boys with magical powers, his twin sister, Bestie Brave, a superhero doll for girls, who is a true new best friend, and Catie Cuddles, a doll dressed in fancy lace who loves to cuddle and snuggle. I hope to use this same art process to design a line of Bee Brave Buddies Adventure books and other gifts for children.

My dolls were designed to become a new best friend to children who are in treatment for cancer or other childhood illnesses and who need a big snuggle and some magical secret powers to be brave. The three dolls are designed with beautiful bald heads. The girl dolls have special words printed on their long leggings: giggle, snuggle, love, dream, brave, cuddle, smile, laugh, hugs, play, dream, hope.

The dolls are also educational. An adult with cancer can use the dolls to explain hair loss and other treatments that children will face. Each doll comes with a matching hat or headband and the superheroes come with silky minky capes. The dolls have very soft plush pillow bodies to hug and love. Each doll comes in Caucasian or African American descent. Our dolls are printed and made in the USA. They are completely washable.

I have personally been giving my dolls to children with cancer since February of 2015. Bee Brave Buddies have been shipped to children across the USA and to several countries. We are excited to announce that we have now received our determination letter from the IRS and we are a 501(c)3 nonprofit. This will allow us to make and deliver dolls to children battling cancer across the country and beyond with your help and support.

 

What can you do to help? 

We are looking for doll ambassadors, an integral part of our team. They are like the generals in our army, helping us make big decisions: They locate hospitals in their area, make child life connections for delivery of dolls, are available for the doll presentations, help secure local press and manage social media regarding their particular hospital. Doll ambassadors also reach out to help us find local contacts to sponsor these boxes of dolls delivered to their local hospitals, either on a one-time basis gift or an ongoing monthly program.

Our new initiative, The Bee Brave Buddies of the Month Club allows a sponsor to send a box of ten dolls per month to a designated hospital. Our Christmas Holiday program encourages families or businesses to celebrate a holiday they will fondly remember, one in which they gave back to others. Our creative doll ambassadors put together teams from family, friends, businesses, corporations, church groups, school groups or sports teams that would like to rally for our cause. These are just a few examples of groups that can help us touch the lives of these children in a very profound way. Our dolls give the children comfort, courage and confidence. These seriously ill children only want to be normal and play! When the child smiles, the caregivers smile, and all of the medical staff smile. It is infectious! Our dolls provide these smiles when the children are hugging and loving them, much like my Gigi puppy provided to me.

9344858
Our mission is to put a Bee Brave Buddy doll in the arms of all children around the world in treatment or recuperation from cancer who need a hug to help these children feel brave and to provide emotional support to children and young adults with cancer and other serious illnesses. Any child battling cancer can receive a free Bee Brave Buddies doll to love.

If you would like to make a difference in the lives of these sweet children, drop by our web site www.beebravebuddies.com to learn more about our nonprofit and please join us today.

Warmly,

Rosanna Hope Bernstein

bbbbanner-960x270-for-weebly_2_orig

Driving the Camel: Installment #15

img_1856

Heading South

We arrived at the beach house, where Marianne and her family had returned for the weekend. We gathered around the kitchen table telling stories of our adventures, but I already felt removed from the day’s events.  My thoughts turned inward as I anticipated saying goodbye to Garth. I knew that when the iced tea was gone, that Garth would be driving back to Clair and his farm, and that I may never see him again.

When the time came, I dragged my feet as I walked him out to his car.

“You know I wouldn’t have taken just anyone caving,” Garth said.

“Yeah, you said you hadn’t done it in a long time, What made you say yes to me?”

“It was just something about your voice,” he answered. “I liked your voice and your spirit.”

He surprised me with a hug so hard that I thought I might break in two.

As he drove off down the beach road, I thought about the many types of love we experience, if we are lucky, throughout our lives. The depth of feelings generated by  the unexpected connection forged with Garth was not unlike some of the strong emotional currents I have often felt with children passing through my care in hospitals. I’ve often wondered if it’s just me. Do I fall in love a thousand times too easily? Or do others feel the pangs and elation that I do when my spirit resonates with someone else’s, stranger or friend, child or adult?

One thing for sure, it was not easy to part with such a wonderful new friend and to leave the beauty and peace of Lang’s Beach.  But leave I did. Matt and his family awaited me in Christchurch and Naomi waited in Kaikoura. Naomi had been another guide on our kayaking trip. She’d since visited us in New York, and now it was time to check out her stomping grounds on the South Island. Then, hard to imagine now, I would be heading home.

The plot twist for this leg of my  journey was all my bad. I managed to miss my plane by misreading my itinerary. As Marianne and her husband drove me to the airport, I figured out the mistake. My heart sped up as I realized that there was no way in hell I was going to make my plane. Marianne pulled up across the street from the terminal and popped the trunk. Our goodbye was hasty as I grabbed my suitcase and futilely ran across the street and through the glass doors, trying to breathe deeply and slowly to calm myself down.

The ticket agent smiled at me as I struggled with my suitcases and my passport.

“Don’t worry, you can just hop on the next plane in an hour.”

“How much will that cost?” I asked warily.

“Nothing. This isn’t a problem,” she answered.

And much to my amazement and relief,  it wasn’t. Catching the next departure, I settled into a window seat on the small commuter plane. It was a short flight through bright afternoon skies,  the South Island rising up to greet me as the plane touched down in Christchurch. A shuttle bus gave me a glimpse of the city as it made multiple stops on the way to  the hotel, a sleek, modern box not too far from the airport. I splurged on room service for dinner and then sank gratefully into the clean sheets, setting my phone alarm for early the next morning.  

The ringtone of Natalie Merchant’s Wonder wafted into my consciousness at 7am. I was so excited to see Matt, and I also wanted to make sure that I had time to eat breakfast and write in my journal. A few hours later, as I waited for  in the lobby, I wondered what it would be like to hang out with him and Helen. Would we click the way we had out on the Strait? Would it be awkward? How much time could they spend with me and how much time would I be alone? I assumed they were busy people between work and having two kids. That relentless anxiety of being on my own crept in, smudging over the recent accomplishments of  my alone time at Lang’s Beach.

But all worries evaporated when I saw Matt. I hugged him unabashedly and our friendship commenced right where it had left off six years ago.

Matt’s mother-in-law and his twin eleven month-old daughters awaited us in the car. We toured Christchurch, stopping at the makeshift temporary church that the diocese erected when the 2011 earthquake rendered the original Christ Church uninhabitable. 185 People died in the second deadliest earthquake in the country’s history, and the city had far from recovered. The devastation of the city was heartbreaking. Two years following the earthquake of 2011 and there were still many empty lots filled with rubble and ruined buildings gaping in despair. Matt said it will take twenty years to rebuild.

img_1778

img_1781

img_1774

We ate lunch in Lyttelton before we followed the winding road to a sweet, small town on the coast. The neighbor’s cottage abutted  Matt and Helen’s property on a quiet country road flanked by horse meadows and a dune- fringed beach. The cottage overlooked an enchanting garden, fully equipped with a tub and a fire pit underneath for outdoor bathing.

img_0080

Worries about being lonely were unfounded and quickly soothed. The cottage provided the perfect balance of privacy and proximity to Matt and Helen’s cozy home.  A routine quickly formed – tea and cereal in the garden, accompanied by birdsong, and the occasional squawk from the neighboring rooster. I meditated and journaled before skyping in with Mark. Then, I would close up the cabin and trot around the corner to Matt and Helen’s house, hitching open the quaint latched gate to their yard, and ruffling their dog’s ears as I passed her on the porch.  

img_0082

Over the week, I enjoyed witnessing the rhythm of their family life. They had a brilliant schedule for the twins, with Matt taking on the lion’s share of parenting while Helen worked as an administrator at the airport. The presence of Helen’s mom made it possible for Matt to spirit me away for some outdoors sightseeing, which was such an unexpected treat for me.. Matt had some adventures lined up  for us and we discussed the possibilities over dinner that first night. We settled on plans for more cave exploration and a day trip to Arthur’s Pass in the South Andes Mountains.

Our drive out to the mountains gave us plenty of time to catch up on each other’s lives and get to know one another better. Much like this New Zealand adventure, my camping trip on the Johnstone Strait in British Columbia with Matt had been an amalgamation of firsts for me: first attempt at ocean kayaking, first camping trip, first vacation with a friend without Mark along. Like a younger version of Garth, Matt was a skilled guide accustomed to amateurs. He knew how to meet me at my skill level and scaffold me to higher performance and more endurance. His patience, kindness, and sense of humor boosted me out of my comfort zone, and I was able to withstand eight-hour paddles in rough water. In a few short days, I went from tentative paddling in a double kayak to coasting solo on the wake of a giant cruise ship, yelling “Yeehah!”

 

During my cancer treatment, I’d recalled my initial fears of that adventure and how I had faced them with Matt’s support. The memory of how far I had come, the confidence in my body, and the strength that I developed on that kayaking trip, all became a reminder for me as I faced scary firsts in treatment. I told myself repeatedly that I could face the unknown and do scary things with the right support. Meeting up with Matt on the other side of the world now, after surviving cancer, felt like coming  full circle. Our conversations on the mountain drive gave me the opportunity to thank him for all he’d done for me back on the Strait and explain how it reverberated throughout my medical experience.

A panoramic view of mountains, foothills, and clouds surrounded us, as we pulled into the parking lot adjacent to the cave trailhead.  I grabbed my gear and headed to the public bathroom to change into appropriate caving apparel. Matt had supplied headlamps, neoprene gloves and booties, fleece leggings, long underwear and “jumpers,” waterproof outer gear, and woolen hats. As I pulled on my layers, I thought about the trust I placed in him to keep me safe, first on the Strait, and now entering into an underground cavern. I had trusted the doctors at the hospital as well, as I followed the dark pathway of their many-layered regimens for ridding my body of cancer. Garth came to mind too, and how he’d met my trust with so much appreciation, respect and humor.  A synergy between vulnerability, trust and risk taking unfolded before me in all of these experiences. The Universe was asking me to do my part, while supplying all the necessary support in order to make all things possible. I strapped on my headlamp and headed out to meet my next adventure.

img_1806

Dear newcomers to my blog,

Driving the Camel is a memoir that I am publishing as a serial on this blog. It follows my adventures as a child life specialist during a transformative year of my life when I battled breast cancer and travelled the world. It includes reflections on my past work as a child life specialist, my personal life and stories of the wonderful people I met on my travels. You can find previous chapters in the side menu categories (or scroll down on mobile devices) under “Driving the Camel: Adventures of a Child Life Specialist.

Driving the Camel: Installment #13 Abseil

 

IMG_1755

Dear newcomers to my blog,

Driving the Camel is a memoir that I am publishing as a serial on this blog. It follows my adventures as a child life specialist during a transformative year of my life when I battled breast cancer and travelled the world. It includes reflections on my past work as a child life specialist, my personal life and stories of the wonderful people I met on my travels. You can find previous chapters in the side menu categories (or scroll down on mobile devices) under “Driving the Camel: Adventures of a Child Life Specialist.

Abseil

I lay in bed that night, feeling unready to let this day be the last chapter of the Deb and Garth adventures. I thought about love, and how strange it was to feel my heart so full for people I’d just met that day. I was hard to put understand the connection and affection I felt for Garth. It was like I’d known him for years, or maybe even in another life.

I phoned him the next morning.

“I know I am not ready to abseil into a cave and swim out,” I said. “But would you be willing to give me a ropes lesson, so that I can try some abseiling in the light of day?”

Garth readily agreed and we set our sights on Saturday. That would be my last full day on the Island before I would head to the South Island for the last leg of my journey. That morning he picked me up and we drove back to the cave, both of us in high spirits and joking. He entertained me with a story of an intruder who’d awoken him the previous night.

“I heard this noise and I figured one of the chooks had gotten into the house again. So, I followed the sounds and opened the bathroom door, and there was a damned possum in there, hissing like it was going to eat me alive.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Well, I just sat myself down on the floor and started to sing it a lullabye. Then once it calmed down a bit, I got myself a blanket and tossed it over it and carried it outside.”

“So what you’re telling me is that you’re a kind of possum whisperer,” I laughed.

As we neared the turnoff for the cave, I decided it was important to be honest with Garth.

“I just want to tell you something. I am terrified of heights. I get vertigo, my knees turn to jelly, and I feel like throwing up.  But it is something I really want to face it today. I want to abseil.”

“Everyone is scared when they do this for the first time,” he said. “The difference between boys and girls is that girls are more likely to admit they’re scared.”

I hopped out of the car to get the gate, and then followed the car into the pasture. It was another perfect day, not a cloud to be seen and a warm breeze tickling the grass. Garth popped the boot and hauled out a tangled mass of ropes and gear.  I grabbed a helmet and secured the strap under my chin.

“So first, I’m gonna teach you a bit about tying knots. When it comes to abseiling, you’re only as safe as your knots.” He nimbly worked a small rope into the shape of a harness, telling me a story as he went about rabbits and holes and foxes. As quickly as he had fashioned the harness, he undid the knots and handed it to me.

“Your turn.”

I fumbled with the rope, trying to recall the story and moves. He watched patiently and guided me with a few hints now and then. It took more than a couple of tries, but he seemed in no hurry. When he deemed me ready, Garth helped me step into the homemade harness. We practiced on flat ground first, tying the ropes around a sturdy tree. Garth’s big  hands moved efficiently, as he hooked my harness to the rope and showed me where to hold on, and the art of leaning back and playing out the rope in my right hand.  

“Keep your feet shoulder width apart to maintain your center of gravity. Never let go of this rope without securing it. Here is how you hitch it if you need to free up your hands.”

His instructions were clearly demonstrated, but the tasks were unfamiliar to me, as I struggled clumsily with the equipment. He patiently guided me through each step until he felt comfortable with my technique.

Only then did we make our way up the wooded slope slanting back over the mouth of the cave. He hauled the heavy ropes and I did my best to keep up with him. We reached a plateau and Garth led us to the precipice of the cliff. We stood directly over the entrance to the cave, about 80 feet above. I looked down at the vertical rock wall, which we would traverse with the ropes. About 10 feet back from the edge, there were several stakes buried deep in the ground, remnants of previous forays over the cliff. Garth securely fastened two lengths of rope to the stakes.

IMG_1751

“How do you know these are secure,” I asked, not fully able to trust.

“Because they go down about six feet into the ground” he said. Good answer.

I stepped into my harness and prepared for my descent. 

“Don’t look down.” I told myself. “You can do this if you look straight ahead.”

Garth lowered himself backwards first. From there, he coached me as I made my first tentative steps in his wake.

The harness felt like a flimsy string cutting into me, rather than a secure perch. I gripped the rope with all my might, terrified that my weight would make it yank from my grasp.

“Easy does it,” came Garth’s voice from below. “Widen your stance. Lean back until your heels make contact with the wall.”

I did as I was told.

“Now take a step down,” he instructed.

Somehow, I thought he meant for me to look for a purchase in the wall. I looked down and spotted a passable crevice. I took a deep breath and jumped towards it, letting out the rope as I scrabbled for a foothold.

“That’s not what I meant,” he said, laughing. “Just walk down the wall one step at a time.

The jump had shot adrenaline through my veins, and my heart began to pound. My excitement was evaporating quickly as I scanned the lip of the cliff that was now about two feet over my head. Just like the plane ride, there was no going back. The only way was down and I was frozen, unable to go any further.

“I am panicking,” I told Garth. “I don’t think I can move.”

“Just hold on a minute. I’ll be right there.”  

He quickly navigated his way up the face of the rock to where I clung to my rope in a death grip. He steadied himself beside me and smiled.

“Let me tell you a story. The Dali Lama had this doctor. They were discussing health and the doc said to him, ‘You know what is wrong with people today? People today forget one very important thing. They forget how to breathe. And he took a deep breath in and out with the Dali Lama. And then he took another one.’”

As Garth spoke, I followed  the emotional stepping- stones of his story.  I breathed deeply and after a few moments I felt my panic begin to subside.

“I think I’m okay now.”

“All right, then. Let’s do it.”

abseiling

Garth returned to his spot below me. I took one more long, deep breath, set my feet shoulder width apart and began my descent. From there on, the exhilaration returned. I only had one moment when I lost contact with the wall. I spun in a circle, my feet kicking out for contact.

“I don’t like this! I don’t like this!” I squealed.

“You’re all right!” Garth called up, laughing at my distress.

His humor made me relax. He wouldn’t be laughing if I were in any real danger. I let the rope out until my feet felt the wall again, and then I walked backwards down the wall with ease.

When my feet finally touched the ground, I shouted “I did it!”

“Yes you did!” said Garth.

abseiled