Therapeutic Recreation and Child Life

an image of a young girl in a purple sweater and blue hair net holding her hand up to receive a "high five" from an older woman in blue scrubs and long brown hair


an image of a young boy sitting with an older woman at a table eating cupcakesTherapeutic Recreation & Child Life is the program responsible for making kids who come to the hospital feel like kids. The team of specialists works to reduce stress and anxiety felt by patients, and they make it look like child’s play. While recreation therapy and child life are distinct disciplines, they complement each other. At Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California they come together in the central activity area, where kids engage in structured and unstructured play each day. That includes everything from card games and art projects to karaoke and line dancing. Then, of course, there are the special celebrity visits — professional athletes, ballerinas, musicians and Mickey Mouse, to name a few.

Child Life specialists engage kids before and after surgery and during the recovery process. They introduce coping strategies and distraction therapy to put play into the child’s hospital stay.   Experts in child development, child life specialists work in partnership with doctors, nurses and other health professionals to introduce age-appropriate play and education that meets the emotional, developmental and cultural needs of each patient. Child Life specialists promote family-centered care by providing support to families of kids in the hospital.

Therapeutic Recreation specialists and activities coordinators organize everything from movie nights at the hospital to patient outings to local baseball games, theater events and more. The recreational activities are designed to help patients identify the activities they enjoy and help them access them once they leave the hospital.

an image of a girl in a toy car being guided by hospital staff on where to drive nextResearch shows that children who are prepared for medical procedures and engage in therapeutic play experience less fear and anxiety and have better long-term adjustment to medical challenges.

Because they interact with patients in so many different hospital settings, therapeutic recreation and child life specialists gain insight into how kids react to different situations and are able to devise new and innovative ways to provide comfort and encourage self expression.


Questions on donations or how you can help? Please contact (916) 453-2000 ext. 3317 or email our Therapeutic Recreation Child Life Department at

Make an Appointment

Please call our Referral Center to schedule an appointment, call (916) 453-2191 or via email at A Referral Coordinator will partner with you to gather the necessary information to allow our physician leadership to evaluate the best path for your child.
a graphic of some silhouettes of children playing