Toys used as tools at hospital

Last updated 00:00 21/08/2007

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The loot-bag, long the domain of children's birthdays parties, is making a foray into medicine.

Christchurch Hospital has adopted the practice in an attempt to make it a more child-friendly environment.

Under a new programme being trialled, children six months to six years admitted to the acute assessment unit are given a bright-coloured paper bag filled with a selection of age-appropriate toys including squishy balls, board books, markers, stickers and bubble blowers.

Dorothy Lavelle, "play specialist" for the hospital, said the toys are part play, part medicine, and part ice-breaker.

"They're a distraction for the kids, but they're also therapeutic," said Lavelle, who came up with the "Play with a Purpose" idea with colleague Raewyn Millar.

The bubbles, for example, can help to calm children down by forcing them to breathe deeply.

And the squishy balls, when squeezed repeatedly, also aid with relaxation.

Lavelle said the toys were chosen with those goals in mind.

"Kids can have a lot of anxiety when they come to the hospital, so anything we can do to help them relax and to make it less scary is good."

"It's great," said Christchurch mother Lana Taitt who turned up yesterday with five-year-old Holly after she suffered an asthma attack.

Taitt, who also has a toddler, said she came to hospital directly after taking Holly to see her family doctor and did not have time to grab any toys, beyond her daughter's favourite cuddly toy.

She said the Play-Doh in particular was a real treat because it was not something Holly got to play with at home very often.

Lavelle said the programme was introduced about four months ago after employees learned about a similar system in the United States.

Researchers found that the simple gesture yielded positive results for young patients.

In addition to providing a welcome distraction for children and stressed-out parents, the presentation of the toys to the children made quick allies out of nurses and doctors.

"It breaks down some of those barriers," said Lavelle.

So far more than 700 loot-bags have been distributed to young patients and were proving popular.

Lavelle said it was looking promising that the Play with a Purpose project would be adopted permanently, thanks to private donations.

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- The Press

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