Piper+Enza Pretend Play Guide

How to Use our Learning Toys

We believe that in addition to being really fun, toys can be useful tools in helping children learn and prepare for real-life experiences—and pretend play has been proven to reduce medical trauma in children. It can also be used to develop coping strategies together with your child! We’ve offered some guidance on how to utilize the learning toys in our online shop to help your child understand medical procedures and experiences, prepared by Child Life Specialist Katie Taylor.

Plan Toys Surgeon Set

Kids learn about parts of their body that they can see from the beginning of their little lives. We ask kids, “where is your nose?!” and encourage them to point to that part of the body. Learning about and understanding the parts of our body that we can’t see is just as important.

A great place to start the conversation about the inside of your child’s body is through play with the Plan Toys Surgeon Set. If your child or someone in their life ever needs surgery, you can rely on the foundation of play you’ve built with the surgeon set.

How to explain “surgery” to your child:

Surgery is a word that means the doctor needs to look at, fix or heal a part of the inside of the body. During surgery, people get a medicine called anesthesia.

How to explain “Anesthesia” to your child:

Anesthesia is a special kind of “sleepy medicine” that you breathe in like air which makes you fall asleep only while the test or surgery is happening. This is not like normal sleep at home. This medicine helps your body sleep in a way that you do not hear, see or feel anything. When it is over, the doctor simply stops giving you the sleepy medicine and you wake up.

For some tests or surgeries, you need a special medicine that makes your body not hear, feel or see anything while the test is happening. It also helps your body be as relaxed and still as possible so that doctors can do their job and help your body to get better.

There are two ways you can get your sleepy medicine:

One way is through an IV straw (a thin, flexible tube that goes in your veins)

  • Your nurse will first make sure your lV straw is working well by attaching a syringe and cleaning it with some water. This may feel cold.
  • Then a special doctor called an anesthesiologist will put the anesthesia or sleepy medicine through the IV straw. Some kids say the medicine feels both cold and warm at the same time for a couple seconds.
  • Lastly, your nurse will clean your IV with water once more to make sure all the medicine is in. You should fall asleep before the nurse is all finished!

Another way to get sleepy medicine is through a mask:

  • The air comes through a soft squishy mask that goes over your nose and mouth so you can breathe just like normal. The mask sort of feels and smells like a beach ball.
  • The sleepy medicine is just like air and does not normally smell or taste like anything, but you can ask the doctor who will give you the sleepy medicine (anesthesiologist) if there is a special flavor like bubble gum they can mix with the medicine to make it smell good!

Many kids like to bring their favorite blanket or stuffed animal to snuggle before their surgery. You could also bring a book to read, movie to watch, or game to play to help while you wait. While you’re falling asleep, you can take a deep breath, close your eyes and use your imagination. Think about your favorite place to go, maybe it’s floating in outer space, building sandcastles at the beach, or playing with your toys in your room.

Sigikids The Little Patients: Rosi and Erwin

When to introduce your child to Sigikids Rosi or Erwin:

While there is never a bad time to start a conversation about health, consider introducing Sigikids Rosi or Erwin 2-3 days before an upcoming medical experience. Whether it’s a checkup, vaccination or something else, use Rosi or Erwin to familiarize your child with their own body parts. Consider “acting out” a doctor’s appointment using Rosi or Erwin as the patient and your child as the doctor, or any variation of roles that includes you, too! Describe the sensory experiences as you “act it out” and practice easily accessible coping skills. For example, “Ok doctor. Can you help Rosi stand on the scale by herself? The doctor wants to see the numbers on the scale. Do you think she’d want to count to 3 or 5 while she stands on the scale?” Then use this role play when it’s time for the real event.

Go through the materials together:

As your child discovers different parts of Rosi or Erwin’s body, instead of pointing out what you see, narrate what your child is paying attention to. “I see you moving the flap on her belly. I wonder what you will look at next.” This is especially helpful if your child has experienced a difficult event related to their own (or a loved one’s) health. As you discover the parts together, watch for signals that your child is more interested in one part versus another. It’s important not to force a conversation or processing— this needs to happen at the child’s discretion, not the adult’s. 

Watch for cues and I don’t know is an OK answer:

Not every child is going to be interested in “playing” or “discovering” a toy like Rosi or Erwin, and that’s OK. Validating your child’s choice and leaving it open for “another time” is a way to spark their curiosity. Also, we didn’t all go to medical school, so it’s perfectly fine if you don’t know the specific function or purpose of each body part. If your child asks a question that you don’t know, say, “I don’t know, but let’s find out together.” (The included resource card is a great place to start!) 

Play may look different than you expect:

It’s in our nature to assume that education and play go hand-in-hand, and sometimes it does. However, play is much more than that. Play is an opportunity for expression. Play is an opportunity for control and manipulation. Play promotes curiosity and discovery. Play is open-ended and should be undirected. Consider these valuable play concepts as you explore Rosi or Erwin together. Your child isn’t judging the way you play, so try to keep an open mind as you play together.

Plan Toys Doctor’s Kit

It’s really common for your child to be fearful of going to the doctor. Think about it from your child’s perspective:

  • [Environment] It’s a new, unfamiliar place.
  • [Sensory experiences] Senses are heightened because of new smells, people and sensations.
  • [Unknown expectations] New tasks are required (standing on a scale, sitting on a table covered in paper).
  • [Painful or uncomfortable procedures] Shots, throat swabs and other painful procedures can happen.

So before your child’s next doctor appointment, pull out the Doctor Set from Plan Toys to address some of the known stressors we mentioned above.

  • [Environment] Desensitize your child to the hospital environment by looking up pictures of doctor’s offices together. Identify familiar objects you see that are already familiar to your child. “Do you see the sink in the doctor’s office? We have one of those, too!” 
  • [Sensory Experiences] Discuss the alcohol smell the doctor office has, sit on paper and comment the the way it feels and the sound it makes when you sit on it, put the blood pressure cuff on a stuffed and animal and demonstrate how a blood pressure cuff “hugs” your arm, and discuss what that feels like.
  • [Unknown Expectations] Use the doctor’s kit to rehearse what the experience might be like. Come up with a plan about how things may play out, and discuss how you’ll react if things don’t end up that way. This is called role-rehearsal medical play, and it helps you and your child rely on each other’s actions to prepare for what may unfold when you are there.
  • [Painful or Uncomfortable procedures] Consider demonstrating the experience of getting a shot on a stuffed animal with the Doctor’s Kit. Sit down with the bear, and pretend you are the doctor. Tell the bear what is going to happen and describe some things the bear can do to help. “Ok, Bear, I’m going to clean your arm with a cold wipe before it’s time for your shot. Do you want to hold mom’s hand, or look at a book?” Encourage your child to help Bear through the experience by asking, “Can you tell Bear to take deep breaths?”

One thing is clear—going to the doctor isn’t much fun for anyone. But equipping your child with strategies to help them cope will make the experience (and future ones) more bear-able :).

Plan Toys Vet Set

Our pets are our loved ones and family members, and children demonstrate that time and time again with their innocent, unassuming interest in animals.

Facilitating an opportunity for your child to play with a Vet Set can instill a sense of compassion while providing an immersive learning experience.

Encourage your child to discover different parts of the play set and use their own imagination to decide the job of each item. Rather than correcting them initially, listen to their words and get curious about why they’ve given that job to that instrument. Through play, consider giving your child the realistic alternative to their own narrative about the job of the instrument. Be okay if they reject your suggestion… this is their play time, not yours !

A great conversation starter from this Vet Set is the X-ray. Consider using this item to start a bigger conversation around how doctors need to see the inside of our bodies and our pets’ bodies when we are sick!

How to explain different types of X-rays to your child:

X-Ray: An X-ray is a picture the doctor takes to view the inside of your body. This can help the doctor figure out exactly how to treat you or a loved one.

MRI: MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. Similar to X-Rays, an MRI is a special camera that takes pictures of the inside of your body, but much more detailed than just your bones. MRIs can also take pictures of special organs in the body, like the brain. An MRI camera is very big and round, with a tunnel that goes through the middle where kids and adults can easily lay inside. Because there are strong magnets inside the camera, you will be asked to take off any jewelry, glasses, watches, hair clips or anything else with metal, so that it doesn’t interfere with the camera. Your only job during this test is to keep your body very still – like a dry noodle – so that the pictures don’t come out blurry!

CT or CAT Scan: A CAT scan/CT scan has nothing to do with cats, it’s just another way to call this special test that uses a large machine to take pictures of the inside of the body. Just like an x-ray takes pictures of the bones, a CT can take pictures of the special organs inside your body, like your brain! The camera looks like a giant doughnut, and the bed that lies in front of it can actually move through the doughnut hole!

Ultrasound: Depending on where the doctor needs to see pictures, your nurse might give you some hospital pajamas to change into. Special healthcare heroes called ultrasound technicians (tech for short) are specially trained to take these pictures for children, and will be helping you with your test. The ultrasound machine looks sort of like a computer on wheels. Along with a screen and many buttons, you will see many cords. The cords attach to different shaped wands—the flat, rounded end of the wand is actually where the camera is! The ultrasound tech will only need to gently slide the camera over your skin where the doctor needs to see, and the picture will show up on the computer screen. Super cool!