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Child Life Program

Child Life Program

Child Life empowers kids and families in the healthcare setting

The Child Life Program at Penn State Children’s Hospital promotes the positive development of children, teens and families by providing age-appropriate programming to build coping skills and reduce emotional distress.

Supporting children and families at every stage of care

Child Life staff help children and families prepare for and cope with the stress that can come with health problems and hospital stays.

We advocate for patients’ and families’ well-being through therapeutic play, education and emotional support.

Learn about making donations to the Child Life Program.

Empowering families at home and in the hospital

Child Life staff provides a variety of support services to the children of central Pennsylvania.

Child Life staff help children and families feel better about surgeries, procedures, and hospital stays through medical play, photos, tours and discussions. They share information that’s specific to each patient, and at the right level for his or her age and understanding.

Medical Play

Child Life Specialists help patients know what will happen before, during and after a surgery or hospital stay. They help children and their families:

  • Learn about the things that will happen during their stay by using:
    • Medical dolls
    • Photo books
    • Hospital equipment
  • Express their feelings and concerns, and clarify what will happen at every step.
  • Practice positioning, and learn distraction and relaxation techniques to help kids better cope with tests and procedures.

Medical Play Kits at Home

Hospital stays can be scary for children. Playing "hospital" can help children understand and feel better about their hospital stay. During play, children can "be in charge.” They can share their ideas and show their feelings. With a supportive adult and a few supplies, medical play can be an important and fun activity for children.

Supplies include

  • Stuffed animals or dolls
  • Band-Aids
  • Stethoscopes
  • Needleless syringes
  • Operating room (O.R.)  hat, mask and gloves
  • Scissors  (if your child can safely and comfortably use scissors)
  • Tape
  • Tongue depressors
  • Thermometer

Fisher Price Medical Kits are available in most toy stores.

You have a role in medical play. Supervise your child's medical play and engage with your child. This helps you be aware of things your child may not understand.

  • Allow enough time to play without interruptions.
  • Help children talk about their feelings and actions. Ask questions like:
    • "How are you going to help your patient?"
    • "How does Mimi feel about getting shots?"
    • "Does MiMi get mad when she has to get a shot?”
  • Let children be in charge of their play, starting and stopping as they choose.
  • Avoid asking too many questions by talking to your child about what they are doing based on what you see. For example:
    • "I see that Adrianne has three Band-Aids on her leg."
    • "You are so gentle when you help Adrianne get better."
  • If the play might hurt the child, others or the environment, find a safer place or safer way to play.
  • Encourage children to use dolls or stuffed animals for patients instead of people. That way they remember the play is make-believe.
  • With your support and understanding, children can use medical play to help make hospital experiences easier to understand and tolerate.

Outpatient Services

Outpatient Child Life services are provided in Pediatric Surgery, Pediatric Radiology, Radiation Oncology, and Hematology/Oncology outpatient clinics with extended services to other pediatric specialties by staff or family request.

Our services include

  • Helping you and your child prepare for procedures, surgery, tests and hospital stays
  • Accompanying your child during procedures to provide coping strategies such as distraction, guided imagery, and deep breathing
  • Offering personalized patient tours
  • Offering activities to relieve stress and anxiety, and to normalize the healthcare environment

Other resources

If you have questions about our services and how we can help, please call us at 717-531-8366 or email childlife@pennstatehealth.psu.edu.

Care Team

We have a whole team of Child Life professionals who all work together to help you and your child feel safe and secure about their health care. Click on a name below to send an email directly to that person.

Manager

Support Associate

Certified Child Life Specialists (CCLS)

Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS)

GetWellNetwork Coordinator

Child Life Assistants

Facility Dog

  • Kaia (MRI/CT/Radiology/Radiation Oncology)
  • Becky (Inpatient Units – Inpatient Medical/Surgical, Hematology/Oncology, Intermediate Care, Pediatric Intensive Care)

Quick link

Donations and Special Events

Penn State Children's Hospital serves children from newborn to age 18. They each have their own unique needs while they are hospitalized.

If you are considering making a donation, please contact Child Life for guidelines at 717-531-8366 or email: childlife@pennstatehealth.psu.edu. All donations must be approved by Child Life staff before they can be accepted. 

If you are considering making a monetary donation, please make checks payable to "Penn State University" and note on the memo line "to benefit PSCH-Child Life".

You can mail checks to:

Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
University Development & Alumni Relations
1249 Cocoa Avenue, HS20
PO Box 852
Hershey, PA 17033

Remember

  • We cannot display denominational or religious materials.
  • We are unable to accept gently used toys, stuffed animals, homemade items or items that have been stored for a long period of time.

Children’s Wish List (all items donated, must be brand new)

  • All ages:
    • Children's board books — English and Spanish
    • Thin coloring books
    • Crayons — 8-, 16- or 24-count
    • Markers — washable; 8- or 16-count
    • New release Lullaby CDs
    • Fuzzy posters — various sizes
    • Sun-catchers (paint-able)
    • Individual perler bead kits
    • Play-doh — all sizes and kits
    • Super Miracle Bubbles (non-scented) — 4 oz. or 8 oz.
  • Infants:
    • Rattles
    • Teethers
    • Small Board Books
    • Fisher Price or Sassy brand cribs toys
    • Electronic light-up/Musical toys
    • Stacking/Nesting toys/Infant links
    • Activity gyms and play mats
  • Preschoolers:
    • Stickers
    • Small, easy craft kits
  • School Age:
    • Small Lego kits
    • Craft kits - Individual
    • Latch hook kits
    • Board games — Sorry, Trouble, Apple to Apples, Monopoly, Monopoly Jr., Battleship, Connect 4, Boggle, Bop It, Scrabble Jr., Boggle, Clue, Clue Jr., Candy Land, Chutes & Ladders, Memory Games 
    • Card games — regular playing cards, UNO, Skip-Bo, Phase 10
  • Teenagers:
    • Arts and crafts kits
    • Sketch pads and sketch tools
    • Snap together model car kits
    • Lipsmackers Chapstick
    • Body lotions and body sprays
    • AXE products (items for our older teens)
    • Nail polish and nail polish remover
    • Portable speakers
    • Headphones/Ear-buds
  • Wish lists:

We are not able to accept:

  • Blankets
  • Caps / Hats
  • Stuffed animals
  • Used books
  • VHS tapes
  • Homemade cards

Donation Delivery

Please remember that all donations must be approved by the Child Life Program before delivery. Donors are unable to hand deliver donations directly to the patients. Please deliver donations to the information desk in the Children's Hospital main lobby:

Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Please call about weekend delivery options. The information desk staff will ask you for your name and address at the time of delivery.

Special Visitor Policy

Special Visitors and entertainers who want to visit our patients are screened by the Child Life Program to make sure events are safe, appropriate and respectful of patients’ rights. 

For the safety of our patients, we cannot accept every offer, but please know that we do appreciate you thinking of the children here.

  • Visitation guidelines and application will be shared with the contact person.
  • A Child Life staff member or designee must accompany special visitors and entertainers.
  • Requests for programs with religious themes are referred to Pastoral Services, 717-531-8177
  • Requests for Christmas caroling are referred to Center Stage or e-mail directly to cdeboer@pennstatehealth.psu.edu.

For more information on special visitors and performances, including other guidelines and an application, please contact Sarah Miller, Child Life Support Associate.

We consider events that are:

  • Highly entertaining, educational and therapeutic
  • Distinctive (we can only accommodate so many similar acts)
  • Appropriate for our patients’ age ranges (infant to 18 years)
  • Religiously, politically and socially neutral
  • Appropriate for the hospital setting
  • Safe for our patients emotionally and physically
  • Appropriate for the space available

Mission and Goals

  • To give pediatric patients the opportunity to provide suggestions in an effort to strengthen pediatric services in the hospital
  • To participate in community service projects
  • To improve the hospital atmosphere and quality of care for patients and their families
  • To act as a "voice" for current pediatric patients

Selection Process

  • ACT members are nominated by hospital staff or personally express interest
  • Members must be previous or current patients between the ages of 12 - high school graduation
  • Members must be willing to participate in, and contribute to, meetings and special events
  • Members must commit to ACT for a minimum of one year
  • Applications/Brochures are available, please email us at ACT@pennstatehealth.psu.edu for more information

Coordinators

If you would like to find out more information about our Advisory Council of Teens, please contact one of our coordinators:

 

Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
Penn State College of Medicine
Penn State Cancer Institute
Penn State University