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Play specialists help ease the stress for kids in hospital

Media release 12 March 2019 | Within the playroom on Level One at Kidz First is a green “dinosaur mountain”. It is made out of the same plaster that is used to cast countless children’s broken limbs and is a great learning tool, according to Play Specialist Team Leader Robyn Maria.

“We tell children who are getting casts that their plaster will start out wet when it is first put it on, then it may feel warm but then it will feel like this,” Ms Maria says of the green creation.

Helping children understand the various medical procedures they are undergoing in an age-appropriate way is a key part of the work of Counties Manukau Health’s 14 play specialists, who this week are celebrating Play Specialist Awareness Week.

“The hospital environment is unfamiliar for most people, including children, that is where our service comes in,” she says.

Every child or young person who is admitted to hospital has the opportunity to meet a Play Specialist - either in one of Kidz First’s two playrooms, on the ward, if they are not able to visit the playroom, or in the Emergency Department.

Ms Maria says one of the first steps to supporting children and young people and their whaanau is to understand what it means for them to be in the hospital.

“Then we would design a programme that supports that,” she says.

Children who are well enough are able to visit the playrooms. Those children for various reasons who cannot come to the playroom have the opportunity for toys to come to their bedroom.

“For children in the hospital, coming to a playroom is a way of exploring their environment, whereas for an adult going and making a cup of tea might be a  helpful way of scoping out where you are. “

Ms Maria says one of the positive aspects of the playroom environment is that the play is child-led.  This is in stark contrast to other aspects of the child’s hospital experience in which adult medical staff make the decisions.  In fact, there are only three rules to the playroom; no medical touching making the playroom an emotionally safe area, she notes. The other rules are no eating and drinking (in respect of children waiting to go to the theatre), and respect for each other and the environment.       

The playrooms are always staffed by rostered play specialists who observe, participate where appropriate, and are able to strengthen correct information about any procedures children may require or have experienced

Ms Maria has been working as a play specialist for 22 years, and in that time has experienced some touching connections to patients. One former patient, now an adult, pops in regularly with his own young family.

Another rewarding aspect of the role is seeing children learn to cope and manage with their environment.

“We often don’t realise how much resilience and inner strength children have.  Our job is to tap into that.”

Play Specialist awareness week runs from March 11 to March 15 and is celebrating the “Rights of Tamariki Children and Rangatahi Young People in Healthcare”

Issued by:   Counties Manukau Health Communications
Media Line:  09 250 9857   Email:

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Play Specialist kidz first inpatient

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