The importance of therapeutic play

Play helps children make sense of their world, and in a hospital setting play is especially important. A play-based approach to hospital care supports children and whānau by reducing stress and anxiety, regulating emotions and helping children to understand and take part in their treatment and care.

The Starship play specialists, who are highly-trained education experts, work alongside nurses, doctors and allied health professionals... (such as dietitians, physios and psychologists) to support children in hospital. This might be with children and their whānau at the child’s bedside, in a playroom, in a treatment room or in the Children’s Emergency Department (CED).

"I work with Play Specialist, Chloe who has a playroom in the orthopaedic ward. She does all sorts of activities with me. We made hospital mascots that you get to do stuff to, and we made friendship bracelets. It’s been really fun because it gives you something else to think about, than why you’re here,”
Marley, age 11, Mt Maunganui.

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On any given day a play specialist might

  • Create a mascot or hospital doll and use role play to help a child understand their treatment or to prepare for surgery.

  • Help a child build coping strategies like visualisation and breathing techniques to reduce stress and anxiety around a particular treatment or procedure.

  • Use a variety of techniques to prepare a child for a procedure, for example, during an IV-line insertion the play specialist might use distraction with a toy or a story, use numbing cream, or use a small machine like “buzzy bee” which confuses nerve messages to the brain, reducing pain.

  • Help prepare children quickly for emergency procedures in CED.

  • Provide distraction and entertainment through creative arts and crafts and games for children staying on a hospital ward or waiting for an appointment.

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Read the full Impact Report 2022-2023 here