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Multiple Benefits of Light Up Toys for Children

Meteor Storm mesmerizing spinning light show
Lifting Spirits

With darkness falling earlier and earlier, we need a dazzling light show to lighten our spirits. Meteor Storm does that and more. Spinning, bright colored lights in ever changing patterns attract our attention. Captivated, we watch the show and feel our tension slip away. We’re lighter in spirit, more joyful. Other light up toys that also enthrall are  Mini Meteor Storm and Light Show Stick. Below are some benefits of light up toys for children.

Behavioral Distraction

Because light up toys are spellbinding, a child in the midst of a full blown meltdown may turn his attention to an amazing light show and stop acting out. In this case, the light up toy helps restore calm and supports self regulation. Meltdowns can often be prevented by providing a light up toy to a child struggling with self-control. “An ounce of prevention,” as the saying goes, “is worth a pound of cure.”

Therapeutic Distraction

In another setting, spinning light up toys make ideal distractions. Consider Meteor Storm. In a therapeutic setting, it draws a child’s focus away from a frightening situation. Child life specialists use light up toys to distract children undergoing simple medical procedures, such as a blood draw or inserting an intravenous drip line. Instead of the child freaking out, she becomes mesmerized by concentric circles of changing lights spinning inside a globe. Before the fascination wears off, the procedure is finished, and the child is too spellbound to notice. Such therapeutic distraction reduces patient and parent distress, improves patients’ coping skills and ability to cooperate, and makes the procedure go more smoothly. As a result a potentially traumatic experience becomes a positive one.

Visual Tracking Assessment

Vision specialists use Meteor Storm to assess visual tracking in children who are blind and visually impaired. Those with low vision delight in holding one close to their faces, watching the bright colored lights spin while listening to the hum and feeling the mild vibration the spinning creates. Teachers frequently motivate students by setting aside time to play with a Meteor Storm once a task is finished.

Fine Motor Development

These light up toys develop fine motor skills. In addition to grasping and holding the toys, children must press and hold the switch that starts the light show. This means the child must pay attention to what he’s doing or the lights literally go out.

Gross Motor Development

Lazer Fingers, lights with elastic bands for wearing on the fingers brighten up ceiling and walls as fingers dance and arms circle and swing. Getting a move on—dancing and prancing—takes the Lazer Fingers experience to new heights. To take it to the max, add music for a multi-sensory experience.

Added Safety On Halloween

Visibility is vital to safety as children go trick or treating. These light up toys make children easier for motorists to see in the dark. And add unexpected dazzle to the door-to-door trek.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Distracted? Distracting? What’s Distraction?

What’s A Distraction?

When hearing the word distraction, what comes to mind? According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, distraction has three distinct meanings. The most common refers to anything that keeps us from giving our full attention to something else. Often we view that “something else” as more important than whatever or whoever is interrupting us. Sometimes it is. Others absolutely not. The definition is ambivalent. The situation determines what’s a bane and what’s a blessing.

If I’m concentrating on writing a blog post and constantly being interrupted, the interruptions are keeping me from focusing my full attention on my writing. That’s a hindrance. On the other hand, child life specialists use distraction toys and techniques to divert a child’s attention away from a frightening or painful scenario. Such distractions reduce stress and increase the child’s ability to cope. Similarly, distractions help prevent or minimize emotional meltdowns in children.

Recreation or Agitation?

Additional definitions, “diversion or recreation” and “extreme agitation of the mind or emotions,” reflect the same polarities as the primary meaning. Perhaps if we embrace this duality of meaning, we can avoid extreme agitation by allowing ourselves a brief diversion. Breathe deeply. Find a quiet place – preferably outdoors – and simply sit. Take a walk. Balance is crucial to our well-being.

C. S. Lewis wrote “Children are NOT a distraction from more important work. They are THE MOST important work.” Most parents would agree, at least in principle. Our most important work is rearing our children. Doing so is our privilege and our responsibility, and we take that seriously.

Being responsible parents means providing for our children: clothing, food, shelter, health care, and education. To accomplish this, we engage in other important work – that of earning a living. If we’re not mindful, our jobs can drive us to distraction. We’re called upon to create boundaries and establish equilibrium among myriad important tasks including our most important one.

Create A Diversion

Interrupt the cycle by creating a diversion. Spend time in a leisure pursuit with your children. Switch off electronic devices and play. What play means to you and your children will depend on ages, stages, interests, and available resources.

With holidays approaching, consider baking, making cards, or decorating butcher or craft paper for one-of-a-kind gift wrap. Explore service opportunities in your community and choose one to brighten the holidays for others. Perhaps read aloud a favorite holiday story or sing familiar songs at a retirement home. What’s important is being together, sharing experiences, making memories. Creating positive experiences for others shows our children the importance of kindness. They learn such lessons best from watching us. Whatever words we use, our actions speak louder.

Now back to the word of the day – distraction. Be mindful of interruptions to your most important work and use recreation and leisure pursuits to avoid being driven to a state of mental distress. Breathe deeply, slow the pace, and savor the moment.

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Worry Eaters Relieve Anxiety

Plush character that eats your worries

Acknowledging Feelings

When life throws a curve ball, ignoring our feelings makes matters worse. Successful coping requires us to acknowledge our feelings. Otherwise we’ll likely “come undone.” Suppressed emotions have a way of escaping, often at inopportune times and in inappropriate ways. Self awareness is the first step. Sharing how we feel with people we trust opens channels of support and helps us find ways to ease our distress.

Managing Feelings

What we do with our feelings speaks volumes about our ability to manage our emotions rather than allowing our emotions to control us. Some adults keep journals, appreciating how writing clarifies and comforts or express themselves through art. Others turn to prayer, meditation, or physical activity.

Worry Eaters Help Kids Cope

Truth is, we all worry – adults and kids alike. Sometimes our worries are small; other times overwhelming. The causes differ, but we all know the feeling. Managing anxiety requires identifying its cause and finding healthy ways to cope. Worry Eaters invite kids to express their feelings and help them develop healthy coping skills. With self confidence and optimism, keeping calm and carrying on in the face of adversity is easier.

Worry Eaters help children do just that. Kids write out or draw what’s bugging them, zip their cares in a Worry Eaters mouth, and let their favorite character hold on to them. The message is you don’t need to carry your worries all by yourself.

Parents’ Guide to Worry Eaters

Certified Child Life Specialist Morgan Livingstone has written a Parents’ Guide to Worry Eaters that outlines common childhood worries by developmental stages, from toddlers to preteens. She stresses the value of Worry Eaters as a tool to help kids “to identify worries, clarify misunderstandings or misconceptions, resolve conflicts and build self esteem.”

Worry Eaters Appeal to Everyone

There’s a Worry Eater for every personality and situation. Consider Flint. He has horns, but to a kid who wears an eye patch, Flint is an appealing companion. Whether short and wide or tall and narrow, all characters are soft and cuddly, eager to take care of our worries so we don’t have to.

Available in two sizes, the large invites hugging as well as carrying worries. The small make ideal take-alongs. That’s why some children tuck a Worry Eater in their back pack.  When they know their Worry Eater is nearby, they say worry less .

Worry Eaters appeal to adults as well as kids. Many parents buy Worry Eaters for kids in college and beyond, saying these young adults need reminders to worry less. We all do.

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Standish Foundation: Hope, Healing, Happiness

We’ve all heard the adage “one thing leads to another.” That happened when I was putting together the posts on certified child life specialists pursuing their passion in nontraditional ways. One guest, Morgan Livingstone, urged me to contact Andrea Standish and invite her to write about Standish Foundation for Child and Family Centered Healthcare. Following her advice, I emailed Andy who graciously agreed to share her story, including a field report showing how implementing simple, effective, and sustainable practices creates positive change not only for children and their parents but also for healthcare professionals.

“There is no profit in curing the body if in the process we destroy the soul.”   -Samuel Golter

These words inspire the work of Standish Foundation for Child and Family Centered Healthcare where we aim to dramatically change the hospital experience for kids and their families.

 In 2010, I started the Standish Foundation for Child and Family Centered Healthcare. The organization was named after my husband Michael Standish in recognition of his long-time support of my passion to help ill children and their families. As a certified child life specialist and educator, I’ve worked extensively to support the rights and needs of ill children and their families. My work has taken me to fourteen countries, and I hope to spend the rest of my life working to introduce sustainable child and family friendly healthcare practices globally.

 It’s simple really. We love kids and believe kids shouldn’t suffer. At Standish Foundation, we work to minimize the pain and suffering of hospitalized children.

Hospitals can be intimidating and medical procedures can be scary – especially for children. A hospital stay can be filled with stress, fear, anxiety and pain. But it doesn’t have to be filled with suffering.

Standish Foundation for Child and Family Centered Healthcare empowers medical professionals with training, mentoring, and resources to effectively deliver child and family-centered care. We help hospitals provide hope and healing to children and families.

 Our team is made up of volunteers who live and work in 12 countries and range from eight to 68 years old. We are patients and parents, nurses, psychologists, pediatricians, child life specialists, music and art therapists, play therapists, and professors.

 We believe that health care free of suffering is a right for all, not a privilege for a few. We honor and help implement healthcare standards in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

You can learn more about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, by reading FACT SHEET: A summary of the rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Among hospitals partnering with the Standish Foundation is Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem. This field report shows the positive impact of using Comfort Positions and distraction techniques during procedures and play before and after.

Our goal for this trip is to work with the nurses, nurse managers, and doctors to help develop their practices and policies on the use of “Comfort Positions.” These positions incorporate the parent into the procedure and include other best practices for reducing stress for the child.

 Comfort Positions were developed by Mary Barkey, CCLS and Barbara Stephens, CRRN and involve the use of sitting and hugging positions rather than restraint. Parents are invited to hug/hold the child or at least be very close by while the procedure is being performed.

 The staff at AVH are known for their kindness and compassion. Adding Comfort Positions to their practice is a logical next step. We’ve spent the week working with staff.  A new play area is set up, a social worker is here, and we’re ready for the clinic to open.

 Many of the children we are seeing are having a blood sample taken or IV/Cannula inserted. This may seem simple to an adult, but for a child, it is terrifying. Most of these children have been undergoing treatment for a while – they know what’s coming. For many, it was scary last time, so why would it be different today?

 Today, patients are playing before and after their procedure. Comfort Positions are used and the child is sitting in the parent’s lap or sitting up in a chair. They are soothed and distracted, and then praised and validated after the procedure for doing a good job.

 There were very few tears, a lot of laughing, smiling, and playing. In fact, a curious physician came into the clinic because he hadn’t heard any crying. He was delighted and said he hadn’t imagined that the few changes would make such a great impact for children, parents, and staff.  Everyone was happier!

 This is a great testament to the importance of PLAY! The sweet children here in Jerusalem inspire us with their warmth and playfulness. We are to happy to be a part of this team effort with the patients and parents, nurses and social worker. 

Wishing you hope and joy,


Learn more about the work of Standish Foundation and ways you can support their efforts to bring child and family-centered healthcare to hospitals worldwide. Donate online or contribute items from their wish list. I like their Ways to Help Us list. How often are we offered non-traditional ways to offer our support?  While not everyone has frequent flier miles or hotel points to share, we can review the website, share their story on social media, and add our prayers.

There’s even a way to get the kids involved. Standish Foundation welcomes new and gently used Beanie Babies. Organize a Beanie Baby Drive. You’ll not only be collecting Beanie Babies. You’ll be sharing the story of the Standish Foundation and its goal of minimizing pain and suffering among hospitalized children worldwide. And, on a personal level, you’ll be modeling the generosity of spirit you want to blossom within your children.

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Supporting the Grieving

KLeigh.HeadshotRobert Frost wrote in his lyric poem, The Road Not Taken,“I took the road less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.”

Our guest, Korie Leigh, a certified child life specialist and certified thanatologist, knows that choice well. She began working in a traditional setting. Then, responding to inner callings, she chose to focus on end of life and grief, in nontraditional settings. Currently in private practice, Korie also teaches at the graduate level, conducts research, and writes.

Let’s be honest, dying and death are hard topics to discuss and even harder to face. We become uncomfortable, aren’t sure what to say or how to act. Yet, as my mother, a nurse by profession and a pragmatist by nature, would point out, “we’re born knowing we’ll die.” She knew how to be with the dying and the grieving, how to bear witness to their grief without being undone by it.

Korie Leigh does too. She grew so passionate about supporting the grieving that she earned a MA in thanatology, the study of death and dying. Currently a doctoral candidate in integral and transpersonal psychology, her dissertation focuses on “legacy building and its impact on bereaved parents and siblings.” Her professional journey is a series of passionate responses to her deeply felt sense of the purposefulness in her life.

She begins with a quote,

“Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put into every heart” –Rumi

From the time I was a young child I knew I wanted to work in the helping profession. At the age of seven, I recall sharing with my second grade teacher my desire to be a counselor with “sick kids”. Little did I know that this inner calling, this deep knowing, would lead me on a career path that would define my life’s purpose. The path would be filled with obstacles unknown, immense joy that filled my soul, and such sadness and pain that struck deep within the core of my existence. 

Along this path, I completed my BA in child life at Wheelock College in Boston, MA. With a passion for music and the expressive arts, I was constantly trying to push the limits of the traditional role of a child life specialist. Every practicum, internship, or placement I sought to challenge existing norms, asked hard questions, and fought to broaden the scope of child life. Though I had a handful of mentors, I generally encountered great resistance and was told over and over again that the role of a child life specialist was to “first and foremost be a play lady”.

Is play important? Yes. Is it how children learn, grow, and express? Yes. Is it an integral tool for children coping with stress, illness, and tragedy? Yes. Is it the core of child life?  In my opinion, No. And I would soon find out that this core, which at first I only intuitively understood, is so much more than play alone.

Soon after I began working my first position as a CCLS in intensive care settings, I was faced with an unusually high level of death and loss. And yet, during my internship, I was the only student from my class that never experienced the death of a patient. Frankly, I was not interested in death and end of life. However, I ended up working with the most medically fragile children in the hospital, an experience that makes me recall the saying, “sometimes our soul knows what we want before our hearts and heads do”.  During this short time on the intensive care unit, I experienced upwards of four to seven deaths a week within the first few months. During this emotional time, I came to realize that not only was I interested in working with death and grief, I was deeply passionate about doing so. Yet I was ill equipped at the time to deal with the magnitude of loss and suffering I encountered – not just with parents and siblings, but also with my own relationship to death and loss.

I left my ICU position and enrolled in a Thanatology Masters degree program at City University of New York, Brooklyn. Thanatology is the study of death and dying and thus, I spent three years immersed in these highly sensitive and culturally taboo topics. Concurrent with this program, I held a variety of traditional child life positions, working in a one-person program at a hospital in Queens, NY, then in hematology/oncology at a hospital in Manhattan. After completing my degree and successfully passing the CT (certified thanatolgoist) exam, I left the traditional field of child life and embarked on a new path – hospice and palliative care.

Working as a bereavement counselor in a city-wide hospice agency, I was profoundly impacted by the nature of my profession. During my time tending to the end of life needs of patients’ families, I began to understand the ‘core of child life’ that I had struggled to articulate in positions past. The core was uncovering itself and leading me to realize that child life is not limited to hospital walls, pediatric patients, or even medical experiences. Rather, this core is rooted in empathy, unconditional positive regard, the ability to bear witness to suffering, and the self awareness to hold space while placing my own agenda, beliefs, and values aside for the sake of true emotional expression.

Shortly after I began working in adult hospice, I moved to California to pursue my dream career of working at a pediatric palliative care facility. There I held a dual position as a child life specialist and bereavement coordinator. However, as life had shown me in the past, our souls know far deeper and sooner what we desire than do our heads and hearts. While pursuing this deeply meaningful and passionate work, I began to experience a longing to contribute to the larger field of child life and find ways to legitimize our profession beyond the walls of medical facilities through research and scholarship. Thus, I enrolled in a PhD program in Transpersonal Psychology.

Transpersonal psychology is a holistic field dedicated to acknowledging the full scope of human experience. This scope, for me, includes examining experiences of suffering, trauma, grief, and the subsequent processes of post traumatic growth, meaning making, and spiritual growth that result from such experiences. During this time I experienced a flood of personal, professional, and spiritual growth. It challenged my comfort zone, shifted deeply held assumptions and beliefs, and led me to embark on a new journey in private practice.

Working in private practice did not come easy. In fact it took me nearly four years to develop my practice enough to have a steady client population. While focusing on childhood grief and loss, I also work with children, adults, and families experiencing a host of stressful life transitions. I also began lecturing at the graduate level to child life, early childhood, infant mental health, and special education students at Mills College, in Oakland, CA.

I currently work as an assistant adjunct professor, internship supervisor, and academic advisor to the graduate child life students at Mills College. Some of the courses I teach include The Hospitalized Child, Childhood Grief & Loss, and History & Theories of Play. I still see clients in my practice and am always finding new ways to reach out to the community to provide child life and grief counseling. I am now in the final stages of my dissertation process on the topic of legacy building and its impact on bereaved parents and siblings, and will defend my research in the early fall of 2016.

Throughout my 10+ years of child life and grief work, I feel blessed to be constantly learning from and growing with the children and families I work with. I have tremendous respect and gratitude for the countless opportunities I have been offered to walk along side and companion parents and siblings through their grief. I have much to say about grief, loss, compassion, and the human capacity to share pain and grief with others. For now, I will leave you with these thoughts.

1. Grief is a journey, not a destination. What we, as a western culture, understand about grief is often wrong. And through its wrongness, we continue to disenfranchise and silence millions of grievers, children especially. The notion that grief comes in stages, phases, or tasks for that matter is helpful for our desire to make sense of and compartmentalize an experience which by its very nature is unpredictable and intense. But these stages, phases, or tasks can also limit our understanding of the grief experience.

2. The death of a loved one fundamentally changes you. The notion that you can ‘go back to normal’ or simply ‘move on’ after a death is not accurate. There are of course ways by which we can integrate and make sense of death and loss, but simply going back to what was is not a realistic goal for this process.

3. Childhood grief looks different and lasts longer than adult grief. Due to the unique aspects that development plays in a child’s ability to understand the finality of death, the grief process of children is constantly evolving. As children reach new cognitive and personal understandings of death, they must revisit their loss and their grief in new and unfolding ways. This happens over the course of a lifetime. As children reach and meet new milestones, so too they must integrate and make sense of their loss.

4. Be a companion-not an advice giver. For those of us who support and love others in our lives who are experiencing death and loss, one of the best things we can do is walk along side our friends and peers in their grief. Grief and the process of grieving needs to be witnessed, held, and honored with respect. Provide a safe space for peers and loved ones to feel what they need to feel, without judgment or the advice to “move on”. Some of the most hurtful experiences bereaved parents tell me are the little comments that friends or family say, such as “God needed another angel”, “he/she’s in a better place”, or even “you can always have another child”. If you don’t know what to say, simply say “I can see you are really hurting now. I don’t know what to say. Can I sit here with you and hold your hand?”

5. There is no right way to grieve, only your way. We are constantly flooded with information about how to grieve. Whether it be through cultural or religion norms, we have programmed ourselves to limit our grief expression. If someone is not crying, there must be something wrong. If someone is crying too much, there must be something wrong. If someone is struggling, there must be something wrong. If someone is not struggling enough, there must be something wrong. We, in this western culture, have made a habit out of shaming others into believing they are not grieving the right way, when in fact there is no right way. There is only your way, with your heart, your culture, your expression, and your coping tools. We need greater permission to allow ourselves to feel what we need to feel, and provide one another with the space and tools to do so.

Korie Leigh offers services for professionals, from trainings and presentations to self-care workshops and retreats and both child life and bereavement and grief services to individuals and families. Her passion for expressive arts and knowledge of holistic practices, allow Korie to incorporate the arts, mindfulness, guided imagery, and Reiki into her practice. And she makes home visits! She understands the challenges families face in getting to appointments and recognizes they feel safest and most comfortable in their own home. That’s proof of her compassion and commitment to service.

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Celebrating Child Life in Kenya

Morgan Livingstone, a certified child life specialist in private practice in Toronto, Canada, is a steadfast champion for global child life programs. She dreams big, really big, and works tirelessly to nurture child life in Kenya. As Child Life Officer for World Eye Cancer Hope, she partnered with Sarah Ellen Mamlin, director and chief child advocate at Sally Test Pediatric Centre, to grow a thriving, locally staffed, locally sustainable child life program. WE C Hope Brings Child Life to Kenya gives us a chance to tour the hospital and hear staff members share their perspectives on the benefits of child life to the children in Kenya.

*last day in Eldoret 2014

Morgan shares her story

 My journey growing a locally sustainable child life program in Kenya started with my work at World Eye Cancer Hope, formerly The Daisy Fund – a UK/Canada/USA charity and Kenyan NGO focused on the medical and support needs of children and families facing retinoblastoma (RB).

Meetings with clinicians, RB survivors, and community leaders in Kenya in 2006, identified the need for a national strategy to improve RB survival in East Africa. In 2007, members of a global team from Canada and the UK traveled throughout Kenya, including Kisumu, Mombasa, Nairobi, and Eldoret, shaking hands, making friends, and assessing sites for “growing” a locally sustainable child life program. I was looking for a “child life” site, a place to incubate child life practices with an existing child-focused staff, space for a playroom, and very visionary hospital leaders willing to “dream big” with us. When I heard about a playroom in Eldoret, I emailed a proposal to provide annual child life training and clinical supervision to grow a full child life program there to Sarah Ellen Mamlin, director and chief child advocate of the Sally Test Pediatric Centre at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. Our inaugural child life training took place during summer 2008, when I pilot tested child life practices and theories within Kenyan healthcare.

Since that initial weeklong intensive, I’ve continued providing engaging, hands-on, rigorous annual trainings for the team, covering child development, the history and value of child life, essential child life theories and practices, from child life research to medical play, procedural preparation, pain management, and play. Learning to work on multidisciplinary teams to support specific populations and situations from burn and oncology patients, including young children and families confronting retinoblastoma diagnosis and treatment and children facing loss of a body part to palliative care and bereavement support. Providing infant massage and child life in the NICU. Supporting siblings and MORE!

What’s most important to remember is this extensive, incredible child life work involves local Kenyan child life health workers providing child life supports to local Kenyan children within the existing public healthcare system. I’m there to teach local staff ways to translate child life concepts and implement child life supports and strategies in Kenya. I’m not there to do the work for them. Creating locally staffed, sustainable programs is the real goal for global child life.

The team received their first international certification as infant massage instructors in 2011, when I brought Andrea Kelly from the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM/WINC) to Kenya to provide training for 17 hospital staff, including the entire child life team and members of the World Eye Cancer Hope (formerly Daisy Fund).

With all this great training, I could see that the team was ready to begin planning to write the child life certification exam. With all the requirements, I knew this would take great planning to make it locally sustainable and economically viable. With some serious fundraising completed in 2013, Judith Duncan a retired professor from Cambrian College joined us in Kenya to provide the Children and Youth in Healthcare course – required by the Child Life Council for eligibility for the child life certification exam. This incredible course was well received and attended not only by the great child life team from the Sally Test Pediatric Centre but also by a doctor and nurse from Nairobi, a community nurse from Kisumu, and two play therapists from Tanzania.

We have also been able to include other staff from the Sally Test Pediatric Centre – that’s right, there are MORE amazing people involved, including child life assistants, teaching staff, infant staff that provide love and care to abandoned babies, a librarian, and a seamstress who makes clothes and uniforms and teaches interested parents a valuable skill!

With outside funding from a generous donor, a new children’s hospital was built in 2015, on Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital’s campus. This new pediatric hospital, the Shoes 4 Africa hospital, opened in the summer of 2015, and the dynamic team of child life health workers and their assistants provide enriched, play-based, creative activities and child life programming both at the bedside and in the new playrooms on each ward.

As this incredible child life program gained greater and greater visibility  in Kenyan healthcare, we knew certification was essential to validating this new profession in Kenya. In early 2015, I started discussions with the Child Life Council about hosting the child life certification exam in Kenya. Through a lengthy long-distance process, I helped complete all the relevant paperwork for the eligibility assessment for each child life health worker, and with the help of some local and global fundraising, we were able to move forward with the certification exam in Kenya in September 2015. Due to technical issues beyond anyone’s control, the exam did not go smoothly. Our second attempt in late 2015 experienced similar technical challenges. Despite these hurdles, there are now two certified child life specialists in Kenya! Focusing on the positive, we celebrate these certifications and continue to advocate for further testing for the remaining team members in  Kenya.

Remaining positive and focused on the long term goals is essential for me in continuing to grow child life in Kenya. Our strategic plan for the next few years balances maintaining hopefulness with being realistic with our timelines. Two skilled child life health workers offer child life supports in the NICU, including group sessions with the mothers.

The team and I will be working with Dr. Sherwood Burns-Nader from the University of Alabama to complete a child life research study. We remain focused on developing and building the child life i

Internship program that will enable us to properly train staff from other Kenyan hospitals, healthcare centers, and hospices interested in implementing child life in their institutions. Other long term projects include offering the required child life course at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, and building an appropriate technological infrastructure and staff to support future child life certification exams in Kenya.

I encourage skilled child life specialists from Western programs interested in child life in Kenya to share or donate child life resources and materials, both new and used. Even simple presentations and posters for specific patient populations that can be adapted to the Kenyan child life program are valuable. Help us raise awareness of the Sally Test Pediatric Centre and the Kenyan child life program by sharing the video on social media and visiting the web pages. Donations help us cover the costs for running annual and ongoing child life programs – consider making a donation – every bit helps! 

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Child Life Mommy Shani Thornton

In honor of Child Life Month, PlayopolisToys invited four child life specialists pursuing their passion in nontraditional ways to share their stories. We’re beginning with Shani Thornton, MS, CCLS, who relates how she came to her profession and has adapted her practice to balance two passions: child life and mommyhood.


When you find your passion in life, you will do anything to nourish it.

I stumbled across the child life profession when I was working as a recreation therapist assistant at a children’s convalescent hospital in San Diego. I loved my job, but had an overwhelming feeling that there was something more that I was suppose to do. I began my research, took on additional tasks at work and interviewed my colleagues about their medical positions. Nothing was standing out to me, until I heard about child life. That was it! It resonated deeply within me, and I was on a mission to become a Certified Child Life Specialist.

Fast-forward a few years later and I had reached my goal by providing child life services within a hospital setting. I loved my job, but I also fell in love with something else, my newborn son.

So, how can I balance these two passions of mine?

Thinking outside the box I developed a child life and parenting website/blog called It provided me an outlet to share resources on a large platform.

Just as you advance yourself in a work place, I began to do the same in my setting. I set new career goals and strengthened my skills by filling gaps in service.

child life mommy logoMy first project was creating a children’s preparation book about a wellness visit, including vaccinations and a blood test. There was nothing available in the market that used social story photographs and had the language of a child life specialist. It’s Time For Your Checkup: What to Expect When Going to a Doctor Visit was developed and made available on Amazon in paperback and digital format. It was quickly an added resource to many websites, including Autism Speaks and the Child Life Council.

I also took on an adjunct teaching position for the Graduate Child Life Program at Bank Street College of Education. My co-teacher and I changed the face-to-face therapeutic play course to the program’s new online format. Using creativity and our knowledge of social media and blogging, we are able to connect and scaffold our students across the country.

As I have found the rhythm in balancing parenting full-time and child life, I was able to take on my largest professional goal thus far, private practice. Providing in-home child life services to families struggling with life’s challenges has rooted me back to the hospital experience of patient work. Engaging with children, supporting parents, and providing therapeutic interventions is what really fills my child life cup.

There is a large gap in service with supporting programs and families in the community, and child life specialists are beginning to step outside hospital walls and apply our skills in various areas. I believe the future of the child life profession lies in expanding both community-based settings and globally.

Grab a favorite beverage and settle in at The resources for both child life professionals and parents are plentiful. The posts present information, insights, and personal experiences in a conversational tone. When she writes about her life, she writes from her heart, sharing her feelings openly and honestly, showing us that feelings require acceptance. Bookmark Child Life Get to know Shani by reading My Life. And follow her blog. Connect through social media at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I promise you’ll find your time well spent.

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Celebrating Child Life Worldwide


March is Child Life Month. If you’re scratching your head and wondering what Child Life is and why we’re celebrating, you’re likely not alone. If, however, you’re in the know, let the festivities begin. Everyone knows  PlayopolisToys likes celebrations. That’s why we’ve been looking ahead and urging fellow citizens of play to plan ahead for celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday, reading to kids on Read Across America Day, advocating for music in our public schools, and making way for kid-centered crafting, all activities child life specialists value.

Now we’re turning our attention to celebrating those who support the psychosocial and developmental needs of children confronting traumatic or overwhelmingly stressful events in their lives, particularly ones involving health and hospitalization. Traditionally hospital-based, child life specialists use play to build rapport, educate, prepare patients for procedures, and help children develop effective coping strategies. Play is essential to the well-being of all children. Losing one’s self in play relieves stress and gives kids a sense of normalcy. Because children express their feelings and work through problems while playing, child life specialists provide opportunities for self-expression activities. Through this play, specialists also gain insights into specific concerns of individual children.

Explore Learning from Child Life Specialists. The pin That’s Child Life is a must. This five minute video produced by the Association of Child Life Professionals, shows the services the profession provides and the benefits not only to patients and their families but also to nurses and doctors committed to treating the whole person, not just an illness or injury. The board is brimming with information and ideas. So grab a cup of coffee and linger awhile.

And follow our blog as we interview four certified child life specialists who have charted new territory by bringing services to non-traditional settings throughout the United States, Canada, and beyond. To paraphrase Dr Seuss, “Oh, the places these people have gone” to support children and their families in traumatic and overwhelmingly stressful situations.”

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Keeping Christmas Simple = Less Stress, More Joy

Do the holidays seem more hectic every year? As if we’ll never have time enough to accomplish everything we tell ourselves we absolutely must? Certainly the season starts earlier every year. We’re bombarded with messages and surrounded by decorations before we’ve even consumed our Halloween treats.

I propose a different approach. Start by brewing a pot of tea or pouring a cup of coffee, and sitting awhile, mulling over what the holidays mean to you on a personal level. What do you dislike the most? could take-or-leave? really look forward to and enjoy? What would make this year more meaningful?

How do the holidays affect your family? What memories do you want your children to carry with them? What traditions add meaning? Have any become crazy making? Is your home a haven? Or chaos central? Are the kiddos “swinging from the chandeliers”? Are you biting your tongue to keep from spewing obscenities? Where’s the peace? the joy?

Peace is a hallmark of a joy-filled holiday season. We know that, but we’re human, and, therefore, prone to over extending, too often saying yes when we need or want to say no, and ending up frazzled. If we have kids in our lives, we need to be particularly mindful of the daily routines that keep us grounded and insure we take care to our basic needs to eat, sleep, and exercise.

Jeanette Molineaux, a certified child life specialist and founder of Baby in Mind offers these insights for keeping the peace in families with young children.

For better or for worse, the holidays often throw us out of our normal routines. This can be tough for our kids. When possible, stick to your typical meal times, bedtimes, nap times, and even to that daily trip to the park. A predictable routine will do wonders for your kids. You are the expert when it comes to your own children’s behavior. Enjoy holiday festivities, but know your child’s limits. As soon as you see signs of hunger, fatigue, and overstimulation at the neighborhood holiday party, trust your gut about what your child’s behavior is telling you and call it a night.

The holidays are a great time to focus on giving and thinking about others. Our children learn about generosity and compassion from observing the actions and intentions of the adults in their lives. As a family, bake something special for your child’s bus driver, the next-door neighbor or a community helper. Decorated cookies or crafts made by kids do not have to be picture perfect. Acknowledge the act of helping and giving to others, and don’t worry if the cookies don’t exactly look like the picture in the magazine. Giving kids an active role in making something special for someone else lets them know that they too can be a generous helper.

Family traditions make meaningful memories and are important to children. While the media may want us to believe these traditions need to look like the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, keep the traditions simple and tailored to your child’s age. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or travel far and wide to make the holidays special for your kids. An afternoon at home, making a special family meal together, decorating handmade cards, or going on a child friendly family hike with a thermos of hot chocolate are simple yet meaningful holiday traditions you can start with you own kids. As they get older, you can expand on these traditions, but for now, keep it simple!

Keeping the holidays simple leaves room for the unexpected and the spontaneous and allows us to savor the moment. My mother loved Christmas and delighted in family and friends. As she grew frail, she expressed her desire to see all her many nieces and nephews, and together we decided on an open house on the first Saturday in December. I rallied the troops, an easy task since almost all consider her their absolutely favorite aunt, the one who never forgot a birthday, even when illness forced her to delegate the writing of the cards.

Mom watched as we decked the halls with her favorite seasonal decorations and insisted we accept all offers from my cousin’s to bring something for the buffet table. She knew that many hands make light work and by welcoming the offers I’d be lightening my load. The morning of the gathering Mom woke too weak to dress and take her place by the living room window. Ever practical and determined – the embodiment of “keep clam and carry on”- she announced that I was to invite everyone to visit her in her room.

And indeed they did. Both surviving sisters, all the nieces, and most of the nephews came from places near and far. Hugs, words of appreciation, comfort, and love were exchanged, memories shared, stories told, promises made amid laughter and tears. Unexpected. Spontaneous. Precious.

Mom died before sunrise 22 December and was buried on Christmas Eve, at the insistence of the minister. Family, friends, and acquaintances surrounded us. The service could not have been more beautiful or deeply heartfelt. Officiants fulfilled promises made and spur-of-the-moment volunteers provided the special music requested. And the church served a delicious lunch to those who could stay, and many did. On Christmas Eve.

Christmas is a season of giving. And the best gifts come from the heart. That so many people gave so generously of themselves speaks volumes. Their gifts epitomized the spirit of Christmas.

We’re sure Mom planned her passing to insure her children spent Christmas together. We siblings are close but with one of us living on the opposite coast, we’re rarely together for the holidays. We were that year. Bleary-eyed and exhausted, we celebrated a quiet, peaceful Christmas, cherishing time together, sharing memories, and taking naps. Ours was a joy-filled Christmas, despite our loss and because of the gifts, valuable beyond measure, that we’d received. Our memories of that different-from-all-previous Christmases are ones we hold dear.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Making the Most of the Holi-Daze

Sarah Morrison, a certified child life specialist in private practice and founder of Giggling Goat Child Life Services in Colorado, believes that what we value above all else is time with those we love. Much has been written about the concept of quality time, so much in fact that we rarely think about what the words mean. If we do, we’re likely wondering what that would look like and how we’d make that work during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Maybe it’s easier than we think. Consider how Sarah approaches the “Holi-daze.”

When the weather starts changing and lights start appearing around town, we all know the Holiday season is upon us. For some, this means a slew of parties, travels, and nonstop events until we ring in the New Year.  For others, we try all year to plan, pin, and keep in mind all those neat ways to save time, money, and sanity, to be able to ‘live in the moment’ and cherish the holiday season.  Just like Jack Frost, we too can ice our cake and eat it too with wonderful tips for creating lasting memories and enjoying this magical time of year.

Blank Slate

Regardless of how many events you have planned or wish to attend, print a clean, fresh, blank slate, literally, a blank December calendar.  Highlight the days that really light up your heart: perhaps a memorable anniversary, a tradition, or a much anticipated event! Focus on those days first, then head back to The 5 W’s: Yep, the Who, What, When, Where and Why!  It’s really back to the basics. Think about  who really wants to go, what day and time is this event? Is it worth rushing to and from where?  What feeling does this bring? This is where you can separate the “attend to” from the “wish to.” If you really wish to take part in something that fills your heart, you will have thought of it first. That’s your why.

Now for the “How”

My favorite part as a Child Life Specialist is finding ways to make something happen!  There are so many amazing ideas out there; it’s just about finding a way to connect.  Often times, we need to pause and ask ourselves, and often our children too, “What would you want, really want, if you could choose?” For many, the answer is so simple it’s often hard to see.  It’s time, time with another loved one, time alone, time to make that cake, string the tree, light the candles, make those pinned crafts together, have a family game night in pajamas and so much more.

Back to that calendar

Highlight all the days your children and grandchildren are off school, those are all very important “wish to” days waiting to be filled with memories and connect in ways only imagined.  Maybe it’s just one simple pleasure a day or something to anticipate and look forward to.  Either way, taking time to plan from the heart sure spreads more love, hope, and joy for this holiday season and many more to come.

I appreciate Sarah sharing her back-to-basics approach. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the expectations of the season that we forget to ask ourselves what is most meaningful to us. Starting there and designing a holiday that nourishes rather than depletes our spirit is the most precious gift we can give ourselves and those we hold dear.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play