UC Davis Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department

UC Davis’ Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy department helps to minimize the anxiety of hospitalization, increase understanding and strengthen coping skills while helping children to continue their typical growth and development.

Child life specialists, along with music and art therapists, provide support and age-appropriate coping strategies, while educating families, staff and physicians about the special needs of hospitalized children.

Play materials can be provided at each child’s bedside and play opportunities are available in the teen and children’s playrooms.

Art and music therapists utilize the creative arts to promote healing by offering tools for self-expression while children cope with symptoms, stress or traumatic experiences. The department also includes a full-time school teacher, a playroom coordinator and many volunteers.

UC Davis’ child life specialists:

  • Provide information, support, and education to families
  • Explain medical and surgical procedures to children using play, puppets and medical equipment
  • Accompany children to medical procedures and/or surgery to provide explanation, reassurance and emotional support
  • Introduce coping strategies to help reduce anxiety and enhance cooperation with the health care team
  • Help siblings understand the hospital environment, coping and visitation
  • Arrange special events and activities for children and families to help normalize the hospital environment

Patient receives stuffed teddy bearChild life specialists are trained professionals who focus on the emotional well-being of hospitalized children and their families in effort to reduce anxiety and promote effective coping; this is facilitated through play, self-expressive activities and age-appropriate medical preparation and education. Child Life Specialists hold paramount the importance of family- and patient-centered care, and in collaboration with others on the health-care team, aim to meet the psychosocial and developmental needs of each child.

The art therapist utilizes the arts to assist healing by offering tools for self-expression while the children cope with symptoms, stress, or traumatic experiences.

Art therapy at UC DavisArt therapy in the pediatric setting helps children to cope with the hospital experience. It allows them to take an active part in their own healing. Art therapy places the value on art making as a tool for insight and discovery. Making art does not require words to express feelings. It engages the right side of the brain, the part of the brain responsible for intuitive, creative and imaginative impulses. Developmentally, this works well for children because art making reveals their internal experience in a safe, secure way.

During individual sessions and the daily art group, children engage in a wide variety of mediums and techniques which are developmentally appropriate, enjoyable and open to the entire family, thus allowing families a place to participate in normal activities.

Music therapy provides opportunities for children to release energy and emotions by actively playing instruments. Familiar songs bring a connection to home, while also offering an opportunity to work on and continue to develop gross and fine motor skills in a fun setting. A daily music group is provided to give families a place to play and sing together, taking a break from the worries of hospitalization.

For older children and children who are unable to come to group, instruments can be brought to the bedside for self-expression. Keyboard and guitar lessons can be offered and run the gamut of simply playing around on the instruments to learning versions of classical music or pop songs. Some of the teenagers who have been hospitalized for weeks at a time have earned school credit for daily lessons.

The art and music therapists are trained in relaxation techniques that can be helpful in pain management and stress reduction for the pediatric patient.

Nicole Castles teaches three oatient studentsSchool is an important part of every child's life. The Sacramento City Unified School District provides a full-time credentialed schoolteacher, so the hospitalized school-age child can continue to achieve academic goals and interact with peers. 

The hospital schoolteacher collaborates with the student's classroom and/or home instruction teacher and other health professionals involved in the patient's care to provide appropriate educational services. Educational sessions for K-12 patients are provided in a small group setting or at bedside, as medically appropriate. A parent's or guardian's signature is required to enroll.

Play areas are available for patients and their siblings. These areas provide safe environments for children to have fun and interact with each other; Child Life staff and volunteers supervise these areas. Children may occupy their time by assembling jigsaw puzzles, creating art projects, or playing with toys. In addition to those individual pursuits, they may engage in activities with other children, including playing board games, and participating in "story time" readings and special events. Play areas are located on the general pediatric unit and in the PICU.