Learning Through Play
Play is the universal language for kids. They learn about their world, relationships with others and use it to process their experiences. It is a way for them to resolve inner-conflict, build self-confidence and problem solve.
Helping a child prepare for a new experience, such as a doctor visit, can also be done through play. Teachers, parents and child life specialists can introduce the topic by reading them a story. “It’s Time For Your Checkup: What To Expect at a Doctor Visit,” is an excellent book that provides preparation along with strategies for coping, distraction, advocacy, therapeutic positions and medical play.
While reading the story, children may be able to remember past medical experiences and identify with the feelings that occurred. They may verbalize these feelings or chose not to share them. The book also encourages children to make choices, which will help empower them for future doctor visits.
After reading the story, offer the children a time to explore with medical play. The doctor kits should be filled with both real and pretend materials. Some of the best materials are loose parts where children can create and use it the way they choose.
Here are some examples of what to have available for a medical play session:
- Teddy Bear/Doll
- Bandages/Gauze/Cotton Balls
- Rubber Bands/String
- Syringes/Medicine Cups
- Alcohol Wipes/Gloves
This is a great time to observe a child and allow them to become familiar with the materials. They may play out what they read in the story, what they have experienced or just explore.
Letting the child lead the play sessions is key. They will begin to have a sense of control and gain mastery in how to use the materials. They get to choose what roles they want to play (doctor, patient, parent) and how to act out the scene. Feelings may be expressed during this time and it is important to validate and normalize them. Children may ask questions and offer information of what they think the materials are used for and why.
During the exploratory medical play session, you may be able to pick up on any misconceptions that a child may have. Those can be clarified and addressed when you then switch the gears from exploratory medical play to directive medical play.
Directive medical play will now have you participate as an educator to help the child understand what they will exactly encounter. Teaching them by using the five senses will help them process the information better.
Break down each step, as the book does, and let them play it out on the teddy bear/doll. This is a great time to practice coping and distraction strategies. “Does the bear want to sit on their parent’s lap or sit by themselves?” “Does the bear want to blow bubbles or count to ten?”
Remember to be honest with children to establish the trust and continue to validate their feelings.=
Offering a medical play session after a doctor visit is just as powerful as preparing them. They will continue to process their experience and release any feelings or struggles that they felt.
Get your copy of It’s Time For Your Checkup: What To Expect at a Doctor Visit, today. It is available in both paperback and digital format.
Shani Thornton, is a certified child life specialist and parent of two young children. She provides valuable information to parents and professionals on working with kids. To learn more about Shani, you can follow her blog at ChildLifeMommy.com or contact her at ChildLifeMommy@gmail.com
About the Author
Kaitlin Gardner currently lives in Pennsylvania and is married to her best friend. In her spare time, she loves to go hiking , hand with her family and friend and enjoy nature.