Play is Crucial to Child Health – Child Life Specialists Share Why

March 25, 2021
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We all know that children love to play. But did you know that play is also hugely important to a child’s health and development? According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is key not only for learning prosocial behavior (like helping and sharing) but also fundamental for health and for managing toxic stress.

Because the team at Baystate Children’s Hospital (BCH) knows the power of play firsthand, BCH inpatients and families have access to a special play area (the Playdeck), provided to offer as much comfort and normalcy as possible during a hospital stay. Opportunities for play, expression and relaxation are an important part of helping children process and cope during their hospitalization.

This past year was a challenge for the Child Life & Healing Arts team that works so hard to provide this healing space for kids. But this March, the team is celebrating a pandemic success: They have now safely kept the Playdeck open for 365 days during COVID-19.

What is the Playdeck?

Child Life Specialists help children and families cope through their hospital experiences by providing developmentally appropriate preparation, support through challenging experiences, and opportunities for play and expression. They work to advocate for children within the clinical team to minimize trauma, to empower children and families to be engaged in their own care, and to “normalize” the hospital environment as much as possible. A big part of that normalcy is PLAY!

While Child Life Specialists can create opportunities for play right at a child’s bedside, it’s also important for kids to be able to get out of their rooms when they can, to have a change of scenery, to get some sunshine and even to get some fresh air when the New England weather cooperates.

The Playdeck is an indoor and outdoor space located at the entrance of the Children’s and Adolescents Unit. There’s plenty of room for play, with cozy chairs and couches, arts and crafts activities, games, and a big screen TV.

Making Safe Play Possible During COVID-19

When the pandemic hit, with guidelines and information changing daily, the Child Life & Healing Arts team worried about how they would be able to keep the Playdeck open and safe for patients and families.

The team consulted with a number of hospital specialists and members of the leadership team to figure out the best way to safely keep the Playdeck open. They worked together to develop strict rules around the number of people allowed in each area at one time, handwashing and mask wearing guidelines, scheduled play times for patients, and frequent cleaning of the space between every patient use.

A Successful Year of Keeping the Playdeck Open

Throughout COVID-19, patients have been able to go to the Playdeck to see other children in-person, when appropriate. For many kids, this was the first time they had been around other kids for a long time with remote learning at home or separation in their hospital rooms.

Safely spaced at their own tables in the large space, children are still able to gain the important benefits of safely socializing with others. Patient Activity Coordinator Amy Kimball remembers one young patient, after a fun play session on the Playdeck, sharing, “This was the most fun I’ve had in a long time!”

Jessie Hagerman, Manager of Child Life & Healing Arts, says, “We’ve had children and parents comment about how great it feels to get “real sunshine” after being in their hospital room for some time. We’ve had younger patients benefit from getting out some physical energy riding a tricycle, school age children enjoying making slime or creating large bubbles on the outdoor Playdeck, and teens safely able to play a game of catch, or shoot some hoops.”

Thanks to the Child Life & Healing Arts team’s dedication, the health and safety risks remain very low while pediatric patients and their families have this important opportunity to cope with hard times through play.

Learn more about the Child Life & Healing Arts Program at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

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