Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Project Sunshine: Using Art to Help Pediatric Patients Thrive

Hospitals in the US admit more than 3 million children every year. Of these, some are planned cases involving children receiving specialized treatment and care. Others are unplanned, involving children who end up in hospitals for sudden illnesses or injuries. Hospitalization, whether planned or unplanned, impacts a child’s well-being. Project Sunshine strives to make children’s stay in hospitals across the US bearable by leveraging art.

Repeated and prolonged contact with the healthcare system affects children and their families in numerous ways. For instance, it separates children from their families. And separation is a major stressor due to the anxiety stemming from being in a strange environment. In the short term, a child may experience a loss of sleep and appetite. Prolonged hospitalization impacts children’s development, especially those aged six months to four years.

Armed with this knowledge, Project Sunshine, a not-for-profit organization, seeks to transform hospitals across the US into child-friendly spaces to alleviate hospitalization impacts on pediatric patients. Project Sunshine also operates in China, Canada, Kenya, and Israel.

It has over 20,000 volunteers across 175 cities who work with newborn to 21-year-old patients. Project Sunshine volunteers also work with outpatients, including those receiving home-based and institutional care.

Project Sunshine’s volunteer creatives work with families to inspire pediatric patients to become active through games, artwork, and other play-oriented activities. Interactions can be in-person or virtual.

The organization draws its in-person volunteers from the local communities and trains them accordingly. Its streamlined, monthly training ensures volunteers use developmentally, age-appropriate creative arts and craft items they are comfortable with. Then, depending on hospital schedules and agreements with families, volunteers visit children and take them through various creative sessions.

Other in-person volunteering activities include Party Time. Party Time is a kids’ program designed to ensure that pediatric patients never miss out on the fun, especially during the festive seasons. Because Party Time events are large-scale, Project Sunshine sponsors organize them and send their own groups of volunteers. Project Sunshine staff oversees the events.

Then there is the Caregiver Wellness, a program that turns a designated room in the hospital into a relaxing environment. Volunteers visit kids and take them through various creative activities, such as painting and building. Parents and caregivers also benefit from such activities as massages and yoga exercises.

And when suitable volunteers are too far to make in-person visits, they can interact with children virtually. Project Sunshine calls it TelePlay, a program that uses various video technologies to deliver play and other creative activities to pediatric patients. Through TelePlay, virtual volunteers can teach kids how to paint, mold, or build staff.

Like, the Program Boxes used in in-person creatives sessions, TelePlay activities, too, are developmentally appropriate. Virtual volunteers also come in handy when in-person visits are prohibited, or a child cannot step outside.

Sending Sunshine Activity Kids is another Project Sunshine program for engaging kids through art. The organization specifies age and developmentally appropriate activity kits that well-wishers can purchase and send to various hospitals and homes. Kits include Basketball Kits (suitable for five-year-olds and teens), Building Kits (age five and above), Caregiver Kits (for parents, caregivers, and teen patients), Mandala Kits (for children with developmental and behavioral needs), and Crown Kits (for pre-school children).

The immediate and long-term impacts of hospitalization on children and their families are well-documented. The longer a child stays in a hospital, the greater the exposure to stressors. The poorer also are their health outcomes. Project Sunshine recognizes this vicious cycle and strives to make treatment and caregiving environments kid-friendly. Pediatric patients who interact with the outside world report better health outcomes.

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