Connecting the classroom to the hospital

Jeri Kayser, a Child Life specialist at Children’s, wrote this post for families.

School plays a big part in all of our lives and that important relationship doesn’t stop when a child is hospitalized. Whether it is a brief outpatient procedure or a lengthy hospital stay, the classroom is impacted by the child’s absence and the child feels the loss of their normal routine and support they get from their classmates.

We all have a role we can play to help support those transitions in and out of school as kids receive the medical care they need. So, check out the following tips, jot down a few notes with your number two pencil and don’t miss the bus!

Kids

  • Your hospital story belongs to you and you can choose to tell it to anyone you want.
  • Your school will need to know if you will be gone and your friends will notice when you are not there so likely you will be sharing some part of your story.
  • Bring a camera to take pictures of what you want to share.

Teens

  • Find out what you will have for homework as soon as you can.  Working ahead can make it easier to stay caught up and bringing homework to the hospital can actually be a boredom buster.
  • Consider using your hospital experience as extra credit for Science or English.
  • As you stay in touch with your friends be mindful of what you put out on social media, your privacy belongs to you.
  • Sharing your story can actually be a big help to your classmates if they are ever hospitalized. They are probably more likely to believe your description of what to expect than just about anyone else.

Parents

  • Let the school know about your child’s hospitalization as soon as possible. This will help give the teachers time to plan appropriately.
  • Coordinate with your child about what information they would like to share and how they want to share it.
  • Plan for your child’s transition back to school. Find out from the care team what sorts of restrictions should be in place to support your child’s healing.
  • Be available the first few days your child is back at school. They may not have enough energy for a full day of school and partial days can ease the transition.

Teachers

  • Coordinate with the family as to what information is to be shared about the hospitalization and how that information is relayed.
  • Be mindful of how this student’s story blends with others’ stories. Each patient’s experience is unique to them, but similarities can resurrect old emotions.
  • We offer resrouces to help explain what happens in the hospital. You can find information for teens and kids, including a downloadable coloring book and videos explaining what to expect, in our Planning for Surgery section.
  • We also have selections of wonderful children’s books that can help explain hospitalization and related issues.
  • kidshealth.org and  teenshealth.org are excellent sites to get information for kids and teens on how their body works and the conditions that require hospitalization.
  • Help plan homework assignments. Falling behind in schoolwork is one of the main concerns for older patients.
  • Find a way to communicate classroom news back to your hospitalized student. Cards are a treasured item proudly taped all over patients’ rooms. Assign kids to be the “reporters” and jot down important information like what was for lunch, what happened in gym and who burped during science. This kind of information helps the patients feel connected and included when they come back to class.
  • Consider Skyping or filming important events that happen at school to share.

These are only a small collection of helpful suggestions. If you need additional ideas, want to find out about our school reentry program or have any other questions, please contact the Child Life Department at (612) 813-6259.

Jeri Kayser has been a Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota since 1985. Her educational background is in child development and psychology. She has three children, ages 21, 19 and 15, who have been a great source of anecdotes to help illustrate developmental perspective. They are wonderful at being good sports about it.

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