World Art Day: Erin Hanna, Play Specialist, shares how she helps children with creative activities

Saad and his sisters, Suhad and Huda taking part in an art activity on Hedgehog Ward
Saad and his sisters, Suhad and Huda taking part in an art activity on Hedgehog Ward

April 15th marks World Art Day. In honour of our team of artists, play workers and specialists, we celebrate the efforts they put in every day to help children to fulfil their potential. 

 Play Specialist at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), Erin Hanna, discusses her experience working at GOSH and how she sees the impact of playing and art activities on improving children's health and performance. 

  Can you tell us when you joined GOSH and how was you started?  

I have been working at GOSH since 2012. When I first started, I was employed as a Play Worker. As a Play Worker, I worked on Lion, Elephant, Giraffe and Badger Ward. I really wanted to be a Play Specialist after working so closely with them and seeing the amazing work they did for children and young people in the hospital. I began studying to be a Play Specialist in 2015 and I qualified in 2017. Upon qualification, I became the Play Specialist on Hedgehog Ward within the International and Private Patients Division. 

How would you describe your daily life at GOSH? 

No day is ever the same.  I start off by getting a handover from the nurse in charge so I can plan my day according to each child and young person’s needs. This includes playing a game to prevent boredom, using bubbles to distract a child from having a blood test or even playing with medical equipment to prepare patients for upcoming procedures. That is just a few examples of my daily life at GOSH. 

What do you enjoy most being a Play Specialist? 

Being a Play Specialist means that I get to play all day, but the therapeutic play that I do helps children and young people through sometimes traumatic and hard procedures and treatments. I love the fact that play and creative activities make a huge difference to a child and a young person’s time in the hospital.  

Why are creative/art activities is important for children during their treatment journey? 

Being creative and involved in art is very important for children as there are many developmental benefits; the benefits include language development, motor skills, decision making and creativeness. As a Play Specialist part of my role is to help the children to cope with the experience of being in the hospital, art is a valuable source as it can help children to process information that they have been given about a particular procedure or treatment. For children in the hospital, being involved in the art can help boost their self-esteem and regain confidence as it creates an environment where stress and anxiety are reduced. 

What techniques do you use to help children boost their self-esteem?  

There are many play techniques that Play Specialists use and one of these is using art and creative activities as this can help boost self-esteem and enhance resilience. Being in the hospital can be hard, but when children and young people get involved in art activities it brings a sense of normality to the situation and it allows children to deal with their emotions in a safe way as it can provide an outlet for feelings of anger and frustration. I feel happy when children and young people’s confidence have been boosted whilst taking part in art activities. 
What would you advise parents to do during their stay at GOSH with their child? 

Depending on how long you will be staying at GOSH for, I would recommend bringing in your own favourite toys and activities as these will be familiar and will hopefully make your stay easier. Find out what services are available so you can plan each day and get involved with different activities.  There are an Activity Centre and a School within GOSH that have a variety of clubs to be involved in. Ask to see your ward Play Team and they can provide you with some activities to do with your child or offer activities for you to do with your child.

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