Practicing For Your Practicum

While the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP) doesn’t currently require a practicum, completing one makes you a competitive candidate when applying for an internship. Some people even complete two practicums to make themselves that much more competitive of an applicant.

For those of you that have already secured your practicum and are eager to learn how you can be preparing prior to starting – this one is for you!

If you’re new to the field and would like more information regarding practicums, click here to read some of my tips to consider before applying to sites!

Read This!

These two books are the foundation for our hospital’s practicum experience, focusing heavily on chapters 2 & 8 in the Handbook of Child Life and chapter 1 in Meeting Children’s Psychosocial Needs.

The Handbook of Child Life chapters focus heavily on theory and play – which are important aspects to become familiar with early in your child life journey. Having the ability to recite your theories and theorists during your practicum and relate these theories to real life scenarios will benefit you greatly throughout this experience and beyond.

Meeting Children’s Psychosocial Needs chapter provides insight on development and how children respond to hospital stressors based on a variety of factors.

If your hospital’s practicum does not require readings or assignments – this is a great place to start reading and growing on your own!


The third book I recommend is A Child in Pain. We have our practicum students read several chapters in this book and then provide them with quizzes at the end of each week. This book gives examples of different types of pain (acute, chronic, and recurrent), how to talk to children about pain, and parent’s role when something painful is happening to their child.

Observe This!

Practicums should be mostly observational – with wiggle room for therapeutic play opportunities with patients/families and introduction of services.

As a student, you’ve done the hard work of volunteering under a Certified Child Life Specialist (have you? if not – click here!) and at this point, know what is expected/appropriate in regards to creating therapeutic relationships with patients and families.

You’ve moved up the ladder to “practicum student” and now you get to observe the child life specialist in action!


To get a head start on observations while you’re at home – head over to my YouTube channel and see what preparations I’ve done so far! Click here

Think About This!

Any opportunity that you have to shadow the Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) on your assigned unit  – it will be to your advantage to take notes. Not just when it comes to procedures but also any interactions they may have with staff or families. How does the child life specialist talk about her services to patients of differing developmental levels? How do they talk to the nurses and doctors? Is this a new unit for the child life specialist or are they a veteran and been a part of this unit for years?

If you’re able to shadow several child life specialists, seek to figure out the similarities and differences in each of their spiels for diagnoses and procedures. For instance, it’s possible you’ll see an IV start in Emergency Department (ED) and in General Pediatrics. What’s different about the way the ED CCLS preps the patient vs. the General Pediatrics CCLS?

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Journal This!

Friends – write. down. everything!

These are the experiences that you’ll get to elaborate on during internship interviews or write about in application essay questions. Make your practicum count!

Start now with the mindset that you are going to work with a child from each developmental level -infant, toddler, preschool, school-age, adolescent (more than one child for each level is ideal).

With that, you’ll document the child’s chronological age, developmental age,  their affect, milestones observed, and behaviors/activities observed with great detail! You do not want to forget anything that could be important to a story you’re telling in an interview down the road.

Once you’ve done all the background information on the child, you’ll then choose a theory/theorist and relate your experience with this child to theory. You’ll get written practice connecting real life scenarios with theory.

This journal will serve you well as you move towards internship applications and interviews. With the level of detail you’ve used for each child, you should be able to do a quick glance at your notes and readily recall the situation as if you were there yesterday.


Focus On This!

Because the ACLP does not have specific rules or requirements for hospital sites to follow, it’s probable that what your friend did at her practicum won’t be necessarily the exact same as what you will get to do at yours.

Focus on what you can control by reading the textbooks that I recommended above, soaking up your observation time, thinking about your supervisors and how they are similar or different in their approaches with staff and families, and journaling your experiences in great detail!

Lastly – this one goes without needing its own category. Be honest, vulnerable and ask questions when you have them. This practicum is YOUR opportunity and you’ll only get out of it what you put in.

With these tips, you’re absolutely ready for the next step: completing your practicum and getting AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE out of your experience!

After this experience, buckle up and get excited to start applying for internships. Click here for direction on how to get organized and get an offer!


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