The field of child life began to flourish in the United States and Canada in the early s through the pioneering work of Emma Plank who trained with Maria Montessori and used the principles of child development to promote appropriate care for this special population in the hospital. Prior to this time, it was not uncommon for parents to be excluded from the pediatric wards of hospitals except for brief visitation hours, sometimes just on weekends.
Child life specialists collaborate with parents and other health care professionals to meet the distinct needs of children in managing the effects of stress and trauma. Because children may feel overwhelmed, child life professionals help children gain a sense of familiarity and control of their environment through play and exploration inside the healthcare facility.
Child life specialists work with patients and families in many settings, such as inpatient units, surgical areas, outpatient clinics, the pediatric intensive care unit , the emergency department , and the neonatal intensive care unit. Although child life specialists typically function in the hospital setting, their skills and training are often applied to support children and families in other settings, such as hospice , dental care, schools, specialized camps, funeral homes, or wherever children experience stress or trauma.
In each of these areas, child life interventions focus on the individual needs of the child and family. There are many physical, emotional, and cognitive stressors that accompany a hospital stay.
Child life specialists use child-centered interventions and pain management techniques to work with the patient and family members to help them cope with hospitalization and medical procedures. Some of the pain management techniques child life specialists practice involve sharing music, favorite toys or objects, encouraging words and statements, singing, videos, comfortable positions and places, and using humor.
Many programs also include a practicum or internship. Undergraduate coursework focuses on child psychology and prepares students for clinical work, post-baccalaureate work and certification. Internships and volunteer opportunities often are included as part of the curriculum. A graduate program in child life, such as a Master of Science in Child Life or a Master of Science in Family and Child Studies, can further prepare an individual for a career as a child life specialist. Studies typically include advanced coursework in medical issues and coping strategies, as well as supervised internships.
Those with a graduate degree also might find work as researchers or teachers. Certification is maintained through the documentation of 50 or more professional development hours, which are reviewed at the end of every 5-year certification cycle. Employers vary in their requirements, but nearly all positions require that applicants hold the Certified Child Life Specialist accreditation from the Child Life Council.
The CCLS credential currently is the only one in the field. The number of child life jobs continues to rise.
The Child Life Council posts job opportunities in the Career Center section of its website and there are usually 15 to 30 jobs posted. This gives students a better appreciation of the combined value of the courses they take and lets them see how each contributes to their overall education. It is also helpful to point out when students are learning skills that will help them later in the same course—especially when the material is difficult and potentially frustrating e.
Seeing the value of the material within a broader academic framework can help students sustain motivation and persist through challenges and setbacks. Students are more likely to exert effort in a course if they anticipate an eventual payoff in terms of their future professional lives.
An information systems instructor, for example, can motivate students to learn information systems principles by pointing to real-life database failures that resulted when these principles were not applied.
It is especially important to highlight the professional relevance of higher-level skills such as quantitative reasoning, public speaking, persuasive writing, and teamwork, because students do not always recognize their importance in the work world. One effective way to harness student motivation is to have students apply what they are learning to real-world contexts.
For example, a marketing professor might use a real-world industry case study to give students practice applying marketing principles to complex, contextualized problems. Similarly, in an information systems course, the instructor might assign a service-learning project in which students must build a database for a non-profit community organization.
This kind of task allows students to work within authentic constraints, interact with real clients, and explore possible professions. Such assignments may also create possibilities for future internships or jobs. All of these factors are likely to increase student motivation. Even in courses that are more theoretical than applied, instructors can convey the relevance of course content simply by pointing out its significance in the real world. For example, a mathematics professor teaching optimization might point out that financial institutions use optimization techniques to maximize trade efficiency.
A history instructor might motivate interest in colonial history by showing how it helps to explain contemporary geopolitical conflicts or environmental problems. Similarly, well-constructed courses that tap into issues that are important to students e. One possible way to enhance student motivation is to allow students to choose topics for papers and projects that connect the course content to their outside interests and passions. For example, a physics instructor might allow a student who plays different sports to do a project comparing the spin, rotation, and acceleration of differently shaped balls.
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