Beyond the Photo Prep Book: Augmenting Preparations with Digital Learning

ACLP Bulletin | Fall 2017 | VOL. 35 NO. 4

Camilla Sutter, MA, CCLS

Child life specialists are often asked to teach and prepare children for upcoming events and procedures. Over the decades, there have been changes in the types of procedures children may experience, as well as advancements in many of the materials used for medical care. In the same manner, the ways that child life specialists demonstrate and educate has changed and will continue to change rapidly. For example:

  • 30-40 years ago: "Prep albums" were common. These were often a handmade collection of Polaroid pictures assembled to show the machines, the rooms, and the people involved in tests and procedures. 
  • 20 years ago: Digital cameras allowed increased ease in updating albums.
  • 10 years ago: Online photo albums become a part of the culture of many hospitals.
  • 5 years ago: Development of digitally based apps provided for a more interactive styling for teaching. 
Technology is inescapable in our culture. A recent study shows that in an urban neighborhood, low-income minority community, almost all children (96.6%) have used mobile devices, and most started using before age one (Kabali, 2015). With this pervasiveness of technology in all income levels, digital learning is being quickly incorporated into many settings. 

Even the National Association for Education of Young Children has stated that when used intentionally and appropriately, technology and interactive media are effective tools to support learning and development (National Association for Education of Young Children, 2012). 

Understanding that play is critical in the lives of children and a right to all children, child life specialists should also understand the implications for a child whose play is restricted. In addition, Brown and Patte reflect on the ways children play in various institutional settings, including the healthcare environment. A variety of research is discussed, which further emphasizes the importance of play for the hospitalized children. Ongoing research regarding the therapeutic value of play is of necessity to continue the advancement of the field of child life.

When considering how we as child life professionals, prepare patients and their families, the core factors have remained the same over the years, with a focus on sensory/sequential preparation, rehearsing of coping, and clarification of misconceptions.

When considering how we, as child life professionals, prepare patients and their families, the core factors have remained the same over the years, with a focus on sensory/sequential preparation, rehearsal of coping, and clarification of misconceptions. 

Supplementing our preparations with technology offers clear benefits:

  • Availability of rich and informative resources
  • Ability to personalize teaching methods and materials for the needs of each child
  • Ability to offer materials for a variety of learning styles (particularly auditory and visual)
  • Familiarity with digital media allows children to fully engage quickly 
  • Interactivity that provides the child life specialist a feedback mechanism to demonstrate patient understanding
It is possible that your hospital has already created a photo album, video, or slideshow for patients scheduled for surgery, admission or other procedures. There are hundreds of hospital-specific preparation sites, but these tend to focus on the overall hospital experience and admissions for a planned hospitalization or surgery and are less useful for specific preparations. Examples include the follow: 

There are also programs and apps that allow you to create your own digital photo album or preparation slides. ACLP has been coordinating with iGetGoing to the Hospital and Child Life Services, which has been specifically designed for educational use by child life specialists. If this type of format is helpful in your practice, there is also a child life blog that provides tips on how to relatively quickly make your own:

If you don't have time to create a digital prep book and want something more specific than a hospital tour, what resources are out there? What can you simply facilitate into your play, rehearsal, and preparation discussion to make your preparation more digitally lively? Below are some helpful resources, along with some examples of how they can be used. 



  • My First Surgery (Free): Preschool-Focused app preparing children for meeting staff, getting their bodies ready, and going to the OR. This app can be directed by the child. Smiles on animated characters are enthusiastic. Example, Basic Preparation that can be introduced at a preop visit or preop clinic.
  • MyMRI at Kings (Free): Use this app with or without virtual reality goggles to prepare child for both the visual and auditory components of MRI. Example: Could use simple VR goggles to rehearse lying still for 20 minutes in a bed prior to actual MRI.
  • Riley Child Life Tour (Free): This child life-designed app provides children with visual photographs of equipment that they may see in various treatment and procedure rooms, as well as preparation videos for ultrasound, waking up in the recovery room, and cold spray for IV placement. Example: Could use information about the interventional radiology room to prepare a patient for an upcoming procedure, even if your rooms looks a little different than the one on the app.
  • Curiscope (App is free, but t-shirt must be purchased): This augmented reality anatomy app works together with a purchased t-shirt to allow patients to digitally “see” inside the chest cavity for education sessions about heart, lungs, and GI system. Involves use of phone or iPod touch.


Within our child life community, there are two committees exploring and promoting technology. Please check out the articles and blogs by the Web and Online Networking Advisory Committee (WONAC) and the Technology Integration Committee to discover more and help contribute to our growing use of technology with our patients. Should digital teaching be the only way? No! Clearly, there is a need for a healthy and balanced media diet, combining media with other teaching methods, such as traditional psychological preparation. In addition, it is important to carefully consider the appropriateness of technology for each patient. There need to be limits on exposure of children to technology, especially very young children under the age of two. Adult supervision should be available to facilitate the process and clarify questions and misconceptions. It can and has become a helpful and fun way to augment our preparations and sustain the attention of a tech-seeking young audience.BulletinArticleBlueIcon


Kabali, H. I.-D. (2015). Exposure and Use of Mobile Media Devices by Young Children. Pediatrics, 2015-2151.

National Association for Education of Young Children. (2012). Technology and Young Children: Positon Statement.