Skip to Content Skip to Search

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.

Mindfulness and yoga techniques

Introducing your children to yoga at an early age can help them learn healthy lifestyle habits and set the foundation for a fit future. This is a short instructional video of mindfulness and yoga techniques that can be used with children experiencing stress. A mindful breath can provide children with a sense of control while simple yoga poses can promote physical wellness and movement.

Alicia Cesare, Child Life Specialist and certified instructor of yoga and mindfulness demonstrates how mindful breath can provide children with a sense of control while simple yoga poses can promote physical wellness and movement.

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

Child Life makes a big impact for kids and families at Penn State Children’s Hospital. Thanks to all who make this important service possible!

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.


Support Associate

Certified Child Life Specialists (CCLS)

Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS)

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

Learn about making donations to the Child Life Program.

*Child Life must be made aware of any potential donations. Due to recent events, donations cannot be dropped off without notice to Child Life. Appointments are required for donation delivery.

Holiday Donations 2020

The holiday season is one of the busiest times for the Child Life Program and the most popular time to donate.

If you wish to make a donation this holiday season, please contact Sarah Miller, Child Life, at 717-531-8366 or Wish lists and guidelines are listed below.

Due to COVID-19, we must take extra precautions for the safety of our patients this holiday season. Our holiday donation acceptance window is Nov. 1 – Dec. 11. This allows time for Child Life to process your donation for the holiday season.

Important Reminders for a Successful Donation:

  • Donations must be received by Friday, Dec. 11.
  • Donors must have a scheduled appointment time for dropping off the donation.
  • Donations dropped off at the Children’s Hospital Information Desk on or after Dec. 11th will not be accepted.
  • Please Do not gift wrap, put labels or gift tags on donated items.
  • To schedule delivery, email Sarah Miller, or call 717-531-8366.

If you are unable to schedule a donation delivery appointment before Friday, Dec. 11, we will begin accepting donations after the holidays, starting Monday, Feb. 1, 2021 (appointments are required).

Donations and Special Events

Penn State Children's Hospital serves children from newborn to age 18. Each age group has their own unique needs while they are hospitalized.

If you are considering making a donation, please contact Child Life for guidelines and current needs at 717-531-8366 or email:

Child Life Wish Lists

Please view our wish list registry for our most requested items.

For comprehensive wish lists, please click on the links below:

Reminders and Special Notes

  • All items donated must be new (store bought and in original packaging).
  • For the safety of our patients, we cannot accept gently used toys, stuffed animals, or homemade items.This includes items that have been stored for a period of time, even if they were never played with
  • We cannot display denominational or religious materials.
  • Please be sure to check all hand sewn items to remove any needles or pins you may have used when making the item.
  • Due to new Safe Sleep standards, we cannot accept crocheted or knitted hats for our infant patients.
  • We are unable to accept handwritten notes and/or homemade cards.
  • Out of sensitivity to our patients and families, please avoid including personal information on or with your donated items. This includes, tribute messages (“in memory or honor of”), or your business information.
  • Please note: For the safety and privacy of our patients and families, donors are NOT permitted to hand deliver donations directly to patients.

Monetary Donations

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". Monetary donations will be used by the Child Life Department to purchase supplies for our patients, playrooms and to host events.

You can mail checks to:

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

If you have already completed your donation drive or collection, please contact Child Life as soon as possible to discuss the items that you have collected. The Donation Drive form will also need to be included with your donation. Prior to delivering your donation, please contact Child Life to coordinate a delivery date and time.

Donation Delivery

Please contact Child Life by calling 717-531-8366 or email to set-up a delivery, date and time. Donations cannot be dropped off without notice.

Please be sure to include the Donation Drive form with your donation. You will be asked to give your name and contact information when dropping off the donation. All donations are dropped off in the Children’s Hospital lobby with our Information Desk.

Donations must be boxed or bagged when delivered. Please call regarding weekend delivery options.

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 for more information


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