Hospitals Don’t Have to Be Scary

Learning about what doctors do, what a hospital is and all the reasons why we go see doctors or visit the hospital is best introduced when a child is not ill. Using pretend and role play to learn more about these anxious topics parents can minimize the fear when a child has a check up or is sick. We played doctor a lot before my son had to go for a long visit to the pediatric cardiologist last December, and it was smooth sailing. But even that one visit left a lasting impression, over 6 months later my son still talks about it. Yesterday we built on that experience by making our own box hospital !

  1. Gather your materials. You will need a large box, some black, read and white construction paper, scissors, red glitter paint, white paint, a large sponge, and glue.
  2. Start by cutting the box so that you have one open side. Cut a door or two into it. We made 2 one for the emergency ward and one for the main doors.
  3. Grab the white paint and sponge and start painting. Do not expect toddlers to stick around to paint the whole thing, encourage yes but don’t force. My son did one side , took a break while I did the others and joined me for the last.
  4. While the white paint dries write out the word hospital and emergency in uppercase letters. I did this on the cardboard I cut from the box. BAD choice, the cardboard was too think and I have a blister from cutting the letters out. Learn from my oops and use plain construction paper.
  5. Add red glitter glue and spread it to cover the letters.
  6. Make some crosses and do the same.
  7. Cut out some dark colored windows in squares and rectangles.
  8. Make a helipad if you wish – it was a must for out medical helicopter!
  9. When the white paint is dry, add glue for the helipad.
  10. Add the helipad.
  11. Add the windows and the Emergency ward sign.
  12. When the glitter is dry cut out the letters for the hospital sign and crosses.
  13. Add your sign and crosses. Let dry.
  14. Grab some ambulances and get to playing!

Pretend Play
!It’s all the rage in our house right now. Take a few dolls and have your little doctor give them a check up. I was amazed at how well my son knew the routine procedures, considering he’s normally fidgeting on my lap when he is the patient. Have fun and take times like these to ask questions and calm fears.


Harry Goes to the Hospital: A Story for Children about What It’s Like to Be in the Hospital by Howard J. Bennett MD is a wonderfully informative book. It’s long , I read each page but skipped some of the text while reading it to my 2 year old. Of all the what to expect when you are going to the hospital books I’ve read I think this is the best. What makes me say that is that Harry goes into the ER for dehydration after throwing up, which is a very common reason. He gets and IV , some tests but nothing else is wrong with him. It goes into great detail about everything and is really geared towards 4-5 year olds. Still the pictures and info can easily be used with younger kids.

When Vera Was Sick by Vera Rosenberry is a look at the day to day reality of a little girl with the chicken pox. Unlike the previous book this one doesn’t deal with a hospital , just with what to expect when you are sick at home. Trying not to scratch, feeling exhausted but wanting to play and the boredom. My son loved this book, especially the fact Vera was in her PJs for the majority of the book. I like how realistic it is , yet it manages to be interesting and sweet as well.
How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon? by Jane Yolen is another favorite. I like the whole series and think this book is a great one to read before doctor appointments especially if you have a child like mine who is never happy to go! I love the details in Mark Teague’s illustrations and never tire of reading this book, even when my son grabs it again and again.
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  1. Allie says

    I was very familiar with hospitals as a toddler/preschooler too ( I was born with clubfoot), and always loved going. Children's Hospitals do a fantastic job of making it less scary.

  2. Merynne says

    My kids love the hospital too. (Daddy is a Paramedic;) So, we stop by every now and then, but I think they would really like this! Great idea. What kind of paint did you use for the white?

  3. Amber says

    This is perfect timing for me. My 4-year-old is going to have minor surgery to correct an umbilical hernia in just over 2 weeks. She's more than a little nervous. Making a craft like this now could really help. Thanks for the suggestion!


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