Comforting Hospitalized Kids with Science

Children performing chemistry experiement When a child is admitted to the hospital, you can usually count on three things. Time seems suspended. There’s often apprehension. And there’s seldom enough to keep a child’s curious mind occupied and his or her spirits lifted.

Family members are present and the hospital’s medical staff is focused on providing medical care—both of which are critically important. Yet many hospitals lack the resources to offer enough recreational activities to keep the minds of their youngest patients engaged.

Helping fill the gap is Project TEACH (Together Educating All Children in Hospitals), founded in the spring of 2013.

TEACH is a joint Einstein and Yeshiva University undergraduate student-run initiative under the guidance of Einstein’s executive dean, Edward Burns. It allows students to plan and lead educational lessons and modules in hospital playrooms.

Fun lessons in the hospital
Here’s how it works. Volunteers come to the hospital prepared with fun and educational modules. The sessions are designed to give children a healthy activity while also spurring their interest in learning.

There are about 14 different modules each month, and each has anywhere from 1 to 35 child patients in attendance. The sessions provide parents and guardians comfort; they know their children can keep their minds engaged while their bodies are being treated.

Popular modules include an egg-drop experiment where the objective is to protect an egg from a fall; making materials like Silly Putty; and telling stories through artwork. These lessons are fun and distract the children’s minds from the sometimes difficult treatments they face.

It’s interesting to watch how the same experiment can have different meanings for different groups and ages of children. For example, when we do an experiment that creates color by adding a substance to a liquid mixture, the older children apply what they have learned about acids and bases while the younger kids just have a good time mixing the solutions and guessing if the indicator is going to turn red or blue.

Training the next generation
Project TEACH extends its influence beyond the hospital walls. Through TEACH, Einstein and Yeshiva students interact with diverse local high school students who are part of the Einstein Enrichment Program.

We train these students how to prepare and demonstrate the TEACH modules. This allows them to volunteer at hospitals while providing a unique leadership opportunity. They get a chance to do science experiments with the kids. Many of the high school students have an interest in research or medicine. We see TEACH as a great way to encourage their career pursuits.

TEACH ran its pilot program in the spring of 2013 at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and has since grown greatly, with almost 300 volunteers operating in an additional seven hospitals and facilities: Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Mount Sinai Beth Israel (EEG unit), Jacobi Medical Center, NewYork–Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork–Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, NYU Langone Medical Center and Einstein’s Rose F. Kennedy University Center.

We see this growth as a tremendous sign of the need for Project TEACH and hope it will expand further, helping both the students who teach and the children whose lives the program enriches. 

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Elisa Karp

Elisa Karp

Elisa Karp is a second-year medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and is currently interested in pediatric medicine.

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