A child is a child, even in a hospital
When a young child ends up in a hospital, parents are concerned about many things. The main concern is, of course, the little one's condition. You do not always know how long you have to stay in the hospital or whether the child is frightened of being in the ward and the examinations related to the illness.
In that situation, it is reassuring to have something familiar that maintains the child’s routines: early childhood education.
"We bring a sense of normalcy to a hospital environment," summarises Mirva Heinonen, early childhood education teacher at the City of Tampere, who works in Tampere University Hospital (TAYS).
Creating a new model
Municipalities are responsible for organising early childhood education and care, but hospital districts have been offering activating activities to hospitalised children for a long time. As hospitals have not had a statutory obligation to organise activities of this kind, and the operators involved have come from different organisations, there has been no clear joint steering for the activities.
Tampere is now developing a model for how families could receive municipal early childhood education and care services also during the hospital period.
The City of Tampere and TAYS Paediatrics are involved in the development project for early childhood education in hospitals, which is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture. During the project, the paediatric units employ three early childhood education teachers who are on the payroll of the City of Tampere.
Activities taking place in TAYS during the project will become part of official early childhood education and care, which is guided by the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care. The City of Tampere is responsible for the practical implementation.
"According to the law, every child has the right to early childhood education and care regardless of their life situation. We have a good educational team that serves all children in the Pirkanmaa Wellbeing Services County when they come to Tays for examination or treatment," says Project Coordinator Marja Rantanen from the City of Tampere.
Time for treating the child as an individual
During the project, early childhood education teachers Salla Jokinen, Mirva Heinonen and Mari Leander will work in the paediatric wards of TAYS.
A teacher will work with one child at a time so that the child receives one adult's indivisible attention and the activities can be easily tailored to their needs.
"We can see more easily what a child needs: support for interactive skills, linguistic reasoning or perceiving numbers," Heinonen says.
Early childhood education teachers also support the child's rehabilitation by cooperating with the hospital's nursing staff. One of them may accompany the child to a physiotherapist or another appointment if the child nervous. It also makes the physiotherapist’s job easier.
"We often verbalise the work of a nurse or doctor for a child and remind them that you don't always have to put on a brave face. At the hospital, certain things must be done, even though they feel unpleasant to the patient," says Salla Jokinen.
Teachers support the whole family
Sometimes a child is ill for a long time, and the parents spend a lot of time at the hospital with them. In that case, early childhood education sessions are a welcome moment for parents to take a break: someone else takes responsibility for working with the child for a short time.
At the same time, the child gets a little distance from the parent.
"Many ill children try to support their parents and spare them from worrying. The child may act braver than what they truly feel. With us, it is easier for them to open up to difficult things," Salla Jokinen points out.
If necessary, early childhood education teachers provide parents with advice on how to get a child to express unpleasant feelings.
"We support the whole family, but it must be initiated by the family. Parents often want to exchange ideas. Together, we can think about how to tell friends and their families about cancer or diabetes. We encourage openness because it strengthens the child's well-being and makes friendships easier," Mari Leander says.
Keeping the learning path intact
The work does not end when the child gets home from the hospital. If the child has been in the hospital for a long time, the team will share their observations with the staff of the child's own daycare centre.
Thanks to the new operating model, there will be no gaps in the child's learning path, even if they are hospitalised for a longer time.
"The project will strengthen cooperation between the hospital and the municipality in early childhood education and cooperation between municipal early childhood education units. The aim is to create good practices for combining information accumulated in the child's own early childhood education unit and the education provided in the hospital," says Project Coordinator Marja Rantanen.