SHARED By: Melissa van Wijk, Director of Tiny Tot Fitness at Gymtime

I have been a volunteer at Mt. Sinai’s Children’s Hospital since 2009. I was invited to do a tour of their Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department by a go-getter grandmother who is a longtime Mt. Sinai volunteer herself. At the time, she was taking classes with several of her grandchildren in the Tiny Tot Fitness Program I teach here at Gymtime.

Gigi, as she’s known around the hospital, and I took a special tour and it was truly amazing to see the program Mt. Sinai runs to ensure that children and teens can still be kids while being hospitalized. They have a dedicated staff of Child Life Specialists who help the children understand and cope with what they’re going through. They also have art and music therapists, an awesome area called The Zone where kids can play and do art projects as well as an in-house tv studio that broadcasts fun and interactive shows throughout the day, allowing patients to participate by calling from their rooms. I’ve also seen a clown wandering by on a regular basis.

I started off volunteering on the Oncology floor and am now in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. I go in once a week. Sometimes I do things as simple as bringing a patient a new movie to watch or more paper to draw on. Often I offer worn-out parents a break so they can get some fresh air while I stay with their child (though some parents need a little convincing before they’ll take that much-needed break). I sing (many nurses now know ‘Shake and Stop’!), clean toys, offer lap rides and soothing touch, play games to stimulate development, read, and I hold lots and lots of babies. I’ll use the sign language that many Gymtime families have seen me use in the Tiny Tots and ELF programs. It’s been very helpful with patients who have developmental delays, are non-verbal, or who have a tracheal tube. These simple signs go a long way, even in a hospital setting.

While many of the children I work with are there long term and are dealing with serious illness, I’m just there to interact with them as kids, not sick people. I work around their tubes and machines and bandages. The most striking thing for me has been that I can go back week after week and see the same child, in the same bed still there. While I’m out working, seeing my friends, or walking my dog, they are there the whole time. And every week when I walk back into their rooms, I have that feeling of “I can’t believe how much I get to do while you just have to stay here.” I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that. Yet I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon, because it’s so fulfilling.

If you’d like to find out more about the Child Life Program you can visit

You and your children can easily support the program by donating gently used toys or art supplies. Toys have to be made entirely of hard plastic or other material that can be cleaned. Fabric or plush toys are not used.

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