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Child Life Program caring for community

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Nurse Noble is working hard; caring for his classmates in Mrs. Benn’s kindergarten class at Pelmo Park Public School.  As he finishes his last patient assessment, Noble removes his mask and his striped lab coat; reaches for his backpack and lines up with his classmates to go outside.  Today’s class is finished and Noble is excited to share his experience with his family.

Alexandra Christofides, a Child Life Specialist at Toronto’s Humber River Regional Hospital (HRRH), is thrilled to see the children’s excitement as they leave the classroom.  Christofides has just spent the last hour helping them to become comfortable and familiar with the hospital setting.

“Supporting children and their families by sharing information about the hospital experience, at an age-appropriate level, including providing information and fielding questions on medical procedures, illness and injury, is the key to my role,” explains Christofides, who’s been bringing smiles to the faces of children and their families at HRRH for almost 15 years. “Extending this information by way of a specialized program we’ve developed for our community emphasizes our focus on patient and family-centred care and makes my role even more rewarding,” she adds.

The “Hello Humber” School Orientation Program is helping the Hospital to make a big difference for children and their families in the Humber River community.  The Program enables the Child Life Specialist to deliver knowledge, expertise and equipment in neighbourhood schools in a ‘hands-on,’ interactive classroom session.

“It’s a valuable and informative session that allows children to ask questions, role play while learning about different areas of a hospital,” says Christofides, who developed the Program in 2003.  “When the HRRH Child Life Specialist visits the school we bring resources, books, medical equipment and supplies, including instructional movies, x-rays and props, fully customizable to the teachers’ needs and requests,” she explains. “The Child Life Specialist facilitates and leads the program with the students and encourages participation so that all the children receive a turn to do something. This program is available for pre-school groups, elementary, middle and secondary school classes.”

“The Program is very valuable for our students and embodies many ideals we’re trying to achieve through our teaching philosophy,” says Ellie Benn, Kindergarten Teacher at Pelmo Park Public School in North York. “One of the goals in our Inquiry Play-Based Classroom is to provide authentic experiences for the children; it enables a child to be involved in an environment that fosters interesting and enjoyable play experiences which replicate, as closely as possible, real life situations,” she added. “By having Alexandra come in with all the “tools” it provided a time for the children to ask questions and explore new equipment. After her visit, the children set up their own hospital using the materials that were left for them; and by using their imagination, the children then created other props for their hospital,” she explains.  “Through this experience children are learning more about their community and beginning to understand the meaning of empathy.”

“Caring for our community is what we do best at Humber River,” said Beverley Philp, Director of the HRRH Women’s and Children’s Health Program. “A hospital can be a scary place for young children and we want to make their experience as pleasant as possible,” she adds. “In addition to their hospital role, conducting visits to schools and other community groups is an important responsibility for our Child Life Specialists.”

In the last several years, Christofides has worked hard to develop and refine the Program.  She is happy with the community response from “Hello Humber” and how effective the Program has been in conveying the ‘right’ information.

“With its informal and play-based approach, the Program naturally provides clarification on many misconceptions children may have or may have heard.  At the end of the classroom session, each child also receives a certificate and they are encouraged to continue learning independently, in the classroom and at home.

Luckily for Nurse Noble, that ‘continuing education’ isn’t hard to find.

“My mom is a nurse and today I got to do what she does, exclaimed Noble. “It was really fun!”


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