Fairy Bricks magic found its way to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, making an important contribution to therapeutic play.
Recently an opportunity came my way through the LEGO® Ambassador Network. Another recognized LEGO® community, Fairy Bricks, presented LEGO® Ambassadors with the chance to do something nice for children. Fairy Bricks is a charitable organization from the UK. Their goal is to provide LEGO® sets to kids in hospitals around the world. My part was simple, first I filled in a request. Second, I received the largest shipment of LEGO® sets that I have ever seen. Finally, I delivered somewhere around 140 LEGO® sets to the Montreal’s Children’s Hospital.
My role in Fairy Brick’s global initiative was small. However, I feel like the impact runs much deeper. Curious for some insight, I sat down with Helen Magdalinos, a certified Child Life Specialist at the Children’s Hospital. A Child Life Specialist works as part of a multi-disciplinary team in order to help children adapt to being in a hospital. They support kids by preparing them for procedures, explaining diagnoses, normalizing the experience for them, and providing distraction through fun activities, like playing with LEGO® bricks. That is where Fairy Bricks magic plays an invaluable role.
Play is an important, impactful tool in hospitals.
According to Magdalinos, play is the “most important, impactful tool that [Child Care Specialists] have.” She goes on to explain that play can help children understand what is happening to them. Additionally, kids can use play to express how they are feeling, and it allows them to cope with difficult situations. Finally, in playing with children, specialists build relationships that make it easier for children to open up about how they are feeling.
Magdalinos specified two different types of play used in a hospital setting. The first, medical play, uses actual medical equipment to teach children about the real-life procedures they will endure. The second type is therapeutic play. In this form of play, medical equipment can also play a role. But rather than simulating a procedure, something like a syringe could become a painting instrument for art. The aim of this play is to demystify the equipment. However, therapeutic play is more than just demystifying medical equipment. For kids, “it’s something that’s providing them relief. It’s something that’s providing them joy,” says Magdalinos.
Medical play teaches children about real-life procedures.
Therapeutic play is where LEGO® bricks find their niche in medicine. “We need to have activities to help distract [kids],” Magdalinos explains, “and to continue helping them to develop. LEGO® is a learning activity. They’re learning how to follow instructions, they’re learning how to complete a task, they’re learning how to problem solve. Those are important things that we need to keep developing in children. While hospitalized, we don’t want to stunt their development and their growth. We need to keep providing them with opportunities to continue that.”
The staff at the Montreal Children’s Hospital certainly has their work cut out for them. The facility sees approximately 200,000 patients every year. There are between 150 and 200 inpatients, and countless outpatients at any given time. Outpatients can spend several days a week at the hospital undergoing various procedures. According to Magdalinos, it’s all about “providing activities, like LEGO®, in order to do something fun in their day, and make it a positive experience while they are in the hospital.” LEGO® sets fit the bill very well, she continues, “being able to bring them an activity that will take a certain amount of time for them to do and complete is so rewarding… it’s a fun activity that’s a little bit more challenging and keeps them occupied. It’s a great activity.”
Therapeutic play provides relief and joy to kids.
When asked for a specific example, Magdalinos shared “there are some kids that are LEGO® masters. There’s a specific kid that I have in mind, he has sickle cell anemia. Every time he’s here, we’re always building with LEGO® together. It’s his favorite activity, it’s how he gets through his crisis. It’s also what keeps him motivated. He comes here often, so it gives him something to look forward to when he is here for, unfortunately, not such great circumstances. A lot of our kids are like that, it’s what keeps them motivated, what keeps them happy when they are here.”
Donations, like the one I delivered from Fairy Bricks, go to good use. While some LEGO® sets might help re-stock the playroom, most go directly to the kids who need them. “Often times they are a birthday gift when patients have to unfortunately celebrate their birthday here,” Magdalinos explains. “It can be given to them as a gift from the unit and the nurses. Other times, when they go through a difficult moment, when they’re diagnosed with a new chronic illness, when they are recovering from a surgery, when they need a day-brightener, or when things haven’t really been going very well for them, we provide them with these great little pick-me-ups. They really appreciate it and it makes all the difference, not only for the child, but for the family. To see their child enjoy something and smile again, it makes a huge difference.”
LEGO® can make a big difference in a sick child’s life.
The Montreal Children’s Hospital is a tertiary hospital. This means they see many of the toughest cases. Therefore, bringing smiles to little faces is no small task. It is a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. However, Magdalinos explains that “both moments are important. I think both moments mold us in our profession… being next to somebody and supporting them through a difficult time is definitely challenging emotionally. Obviously, we’re human, we have empathy for the patients and their families that we work with. But then there’s great moments, like accomplishing a huge LEGO® project, or the moment that they open something, like a LEGO® gift for their birthday. They’re so excited, it just makes you feel happy inside. With everything that they’re going through, being able to provide something that’s going to brighten their day, those are just special moments.”
If nothing else, this experience shows that therapeutic play is another wonderful application of LEGO® bricks. Of course, Magdalinos admits that she is a little biased when it comes to this topic. She comes from a LEGO®-loving home. “We’re a big LEGO® family, actually. We finished the Millennium Falcon, which is that HUGE Star Wars ship. We have so much LEGO® that we need a new bookshelf to keep all our LEGO®. We have a lot of [sets] at home [laughs]. I think it’s a wonderful activity for fine motor development, and for providing a challenging task. I think its great. I don’t know, I’m biased to LEGO®, I guess [laughs]… What I love is when [my kids] just build onto their sets with different pieces, and they use their imagination and continue building something outside of what the instruction book said, or the box said. I love those moments when I see them just free playing with their LEGO®.”
LEGO® is ideally suited for therapeutic play.
In the end, I am thrilled to have been able to play a small role in Fairy Bricks’ worldwide mission to brighten the lives of sick children. After speaking with Helen Magdalinos at the Montreal Children’s Hospital and learning about the importance of play and LEGO® sets in the lives of sick kids, I support the initiative even more. As it turns out, making a sick child’s day brighter is only one LEGO® box away!
Until next time,
p.s. to read more about Fairy Bricks magic, visit their website by clicking here. If you would like to donate to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, you can find out more by clicking here. For more LEGO® news from True North Bricks, click here.
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