4 Ways the Power of Play Spurs Hospitalized Kids' Healing and Growth

Whether it's building a tower out of blocks or painting a picture of the outdoors, kids love to play! But did you know that play isn't just about fun? It's a powerful tool for a child's overall growth, especially for those in the hospital.

We spoke with Starlight’s Viktoria de Jong, CCLS, to learn more about the benefits of play, what play looks like for hospitalized kids, and how Starlight programs help hospitalized kids through play.

1. Play Supports Cognitive Development

Through imaginative play and non-traditional use of toys, children refine their creative thinking skills. Enter the world of medical play, where a Starlight Toy Delivery transforms into a tool for creative understanding, helping a child process upcoming treatments or procedures.  

For example, a Child Life Specialist may use a Starlight Toy Delivery (such as a doll or a stuffed animal) to role-play an upcoming medical procedure the child will have to go through. This type of play helps a child be better prepared for different medical experiences! 

In the hospital setting, play creates a positive and engaging environment for children, ultimately cultivating happiness and making the hospital an easier place to be 

Meet Jacob, who strategized his way to victory on the Starlight Gaming Station, showcasing the power of play and the positive effect of playing video games in refining creative thinking and problem-solving skills.


2. Play Supports Emotional Development 

Play acts as a stress-relief sanctuary for hospitalized kids. Starlight Toy Deliveries bring the comfort of home to the hospital, reducing stress, creating a positive environment, and supporting their mental health. Emotional expression becomes a lot easier through play, allowing children to process their thoughts and feelings with the help of Child Life Specialists.  

Resilience shines through the story of Olivianna. For Oliviana, Starlight Radio Flyer Hero Wagons brought her great comfort when she was having a difficult time during MRI scans. Hildie, Olivianna’s mom, says the wagon is one of their favorite things to do at the hospital, and they try to get as much “hallway airtime” as possible. 

These rides within the Starlight Hero Wagon gave Olivianna the strength and determination necessary to confront her subsequent MRIs. Because of her resilience, largely attributed to the comfort from her wagon rides, Olivianna has become less and less anxious around her MRIs. Remarkably, Olivianna has undergone more than 30 MRI scans! 

Blog-Image-–-Intro-to-Power-of-Play Olivianna Internal-1

3. Play Supports Social Development 

Playtime is where conflict resolution and social skills are learned best. Whether with Starlight Toy Deliveries or while playing on a Starlight Gaming Station, kids learn essential life skills like negotiating, sharing, and teamwork. Interacting with others becomes second nature, fostering friendships and communication! 

4. Play Supports Physical Development 

In the world of play, health and fitness form a dynamic duo. Whether engaging in lively games or delving into virtual reality experiences, play becomes a cornerstone for supporting both physical therapy and motor skill development. Starlight Virtual Reality, showcased through the journey of Peyton facing muscular dystrophy, not only makes physical therapy fun but also contributes to lower pain levels and increased mobility! 

Peyton’s mom Venus shared how the Physical Therapy team at Cleveland Clinic Children’s have been working diligently to get Peyton up into a chair. Typically, she is only able to sit in a chair for a max of 15 minutes, but with Starlight VR, she was able to sit for an hour!


Play isn't just a pastime—it's a crucial part of a child's journey, treatment, and recovery in the hospital. Starlight programs not only help children cope with anxiety and support physical therapy but also ensure that kids can continue to play and grow during their hospital stay.

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