Playing Around: The Healing Power of Play
Play is the universal language of childhood. Just watching a child or a group of children play confirms that play generates joy. The healing power of play is also backed by science. Evidenced-based studies have also found that play can help reduce stress in hospitalized children and its positive effect on children dealing with chronic illness. . According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is one of the most effective methods of reducing stress in kids, allowing their bodies to heal. Decades of research have also shown that play is how children communicate, interact and engage with the world around them. When a child is facing medical challenges, their world can be incredibly confusing, stressful and scary.
While the term “just playing around” is often an expression for goofing off or not taking things seriously, the staff and volunteers at Project Sunshine are serious about play. And not just because they like to have fun (although they do)! Play is serious stuff for the staff and in 2019 more than 20,000 volunteers brought fun to over 175,000 pediatric patients and their families.
In addition to the anxiety children may experience in the hospital or recuperating at home, they can endure long periods with nothing to do except stress over their situation. Play provides a fun and safe escape from boredom.
Project Sunshine Activity Kits include materials designed to inspire creativity and stimulate play. Assembled by corporate volunteers, these kits are free to young patients to use in the hospital or at home.
The pandemic can add another level of stress and Project Sunshine has launched TelePlay to give young patients a chance to play via video conferencing. Project Sunshine’s TelePlay is a live, play experience using a HIPAA compliant technology platform for children facing medical challenges in or out of the hospital. TelePlay provides developmentally appropriate, engaging activities and games led by highly trained volunteers, including skilled volunteers like artists and musicians. Patients can choose from a variety of programs based on interest, age and developmental ability.
Play Is More Than a Distraction
Diverting a child’s attention from an injection or painful treatment is only a small part of playtime benefits for children during illness or other medical situations. Play can be an excellent therapeutic tool and a vital part of a child’s medical care, aiding the physical and emotional healing process.
There are benefits for parents, too. Observing their children having fun and laughing provides a measure of relief that can help reduce their fears.
Some aspects of play fit into both categories. Surgi Dolls—plain, stuffed, body-shaped dolls sewn by Project Sunshine volunteers—offer comfort, reduce anxiety, and can be used to help medical staff demonstrate a procedure. There are few things in life better than a smile on a child’s face or the sound of their laughter. It may be just child’s play, but you can ignite the power of play and spread sunshine to sick and injured children. That’s a good reason to smile!