The Learning Curve in a Child Life Practicum

The Learning Curve in a Child Life Practicum

As the child life field continues to grow many students are completing a practicum before they start their internship. It is a unique learning experience for the student, but also for the preceptor. Many specialists will strengthen their skills in teaching, communicating and self-reflecting during this supervisory role.

I am happy to share one specialists experience as a first time preceptor in a child life practicum. Sarah is a Certified Child Life Specialist and blogger at A Little Playfullness, a site dedicated to therapeutic activities for child life specialists in their work.


A few of you may be wondering what a child life practicum student is. While it’s not necessary for certification, it has become the common practice that students who are pursuing a child life career first perform a 100 to 200 hour practicum experience prior to applying for internship positions. The goal of the practicum is to gain an introduction to child life through observation, written assignments, and interactions with patients, families, and the healthcare team. Students shadow child life specialists throughout their day, observing health care preparation, procedure support, medical rounding, and bereavement services, to name a few. Their assignments include weekly journal write ups, article reviews, in-services, developmental observations, and implementation of planned therapeutic activities. Depending on the facility, there may be additional assignments as well.

My experience as a practicum preceptor was incredibly insightful. Not only did it take me down memory lane to when I was a practicum student, it was also very interesting to see the other side of the fence. I found that it was important to encourage my student to really process the different interactions she saw and always look for ways to connect theory to practice. In our field, it’s important for us to be able to talk about the theory behind the tools and techniques we choose to use. When students interview for internships, they are expected to be able to talk about the theories and use examples. By practicing it during their practicum, that portion of the interview is easier.

Another thing I practiced was the art of not beating around the bush. I’m not going to lie. I love to talk. This is good, because being a practicum preceptor means you do a lot of talking. At the same time, there is such a thing as talking too much and going off on wild tangents. I think I’ve gotten pretty good about not going off on tangents and being concise when I explain things. Though sometimes my wild tangents have a point, I promise!

Finally, I learned the importance of letting go. Practicum students come to learn and I think the best way to learn is to practice. While practicum students don’t do procedure supports and preparations like interns, they definitely practice things like creating and implementing therapeutic activities. It was my job to coach my student in regards to things like therapeutic activities and encourage her to try things on her own when she was ready. My practicum student was awesome and always game to try new things. It was a wonderful honor to get to see her grow this summer. I can’t wait to see how she does in the future and I’m looking forward to meeting my next student!

To learn more about Sarah and her child life experience, follow her blog at ALittlePlayfullness.wordpress.com

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