Investigating the effect of children’s play in hospitals


Children need to play, even when they are ill and in a hospital. Experiences from Rigshospitalet and other hospitals indicate, that integrating play and activities as part of examination and treatment of children and adolescents helps them to better understand and deal with their hospital stay. 

Doctors, nurses, educators and volunteers working at children’s wards in Denmark and in other parts of the world are already now using play and activities. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence of the effect of using play in the hospital, such as whether more play during treatment could actually reduce the amount of medication required or help a child to better cope with the hospital stay. A new research project, “Play and health”, will now investigate this.

MD PhD Line Klingen Gjærde at Rigshospitalet, who is a researcher on the new project, explains:

“We are excited to now have the opportunity to investigate the role of integration play in our work with hospitalised children and adolescents, and thereby identify types of play and activities that can improve their hospital experience and quality of life. The aim is to improve the treatment of children and adolescents both in the short and long run and make them feel safer in the hospital. We’re very grateful for the support from the LEGO Foundation, which now enables us to investigate the relation between play, activities and health, which in many ways is a new research field,” says Line Klingen Gjærde.

The research project “Play and health” will, as a start, bring together experiences and knowledge with play in hospitals from experts around the world, and launch new projects. The purpose is to identify the most effective ways of integrating play and activities into the hospital treatment and care. Rigshospitalet will work together with research partners, such as the University of Cambridge, ’Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development & Learning (PEDAL)’.

Play is more than fun and games

The LEGO Foundation will support “Play and Health” with knowledge and experience on the fundamentals of play and what play can achieve – that it is more than just fun and games. The Foundation’s know-how includes a network of researchers and projects from all over the world, focusing on the role of play in non-hospital contexts.

 “Research shows that play is essential for the development and learning in all children. The LEGO Foundation has seen many examples where play helps children in hospital understand and deal with their situation. We’ve chosen to collaborate with Rigshospitalet on the “Play and health” research project because we believe play can be integrated even more, and more centrally, in supporting children, adolescents and their families – at the Children’s Hospital Copenhagen, but also internationally,” according to Bo Stjerne Thomsen, Head of Research at the LEGO Foundation.

Copenhagen Children’s Hospital

“Play and health” is part of the establishment of Children’s Hospital Copenhagen – Rigshospitalet’s new hospital for children, adolescents, pregnant women and their families. Play and activities are integrated in both the design of the building and treatment and care. The hospital is based on a partnership between the Capital Region of Denmark which is contributing approx. DKK 1,4 billons and Ole Kirk’s Foundation, which is contributing approx. DKK 600 million as well as providing developmental consultancy. Besides the grant from the LEGO Foundation of DKK 4 million to ‘Play and Health’, the foundation contributes with its strong expertise on the role of play. 

The research project aligns with the main priorities of the Capital Region and one of the five focus areas: “The Children's Region". The Chairman of the Regional Council, Sophie Hæstorp Andersen (S) explains:

- In the Capital Region, we have chosen to start initiatives to be prepared for a future setting with more children and families living in the Capital Region. We want to be a region that prioritizes children and the research project 'Play and Health' contributes to this focus. I look forward to following the project results.

Staff to be trained in the use of play and activities

The LEGO Foundation also contributes to the possibility of developing a training programme for all the hospital staff, about integration of play into work, when Children’s Hospital Copenhagen opens in 2025.

 “One of the key research questions is whether a systematic approach to staff training for integrating play and activities can result in for example less medication when treating and examining children and adolescents,” explains professor Jette Led Sørensen, head of the new research project.

Project director and paediatrician Thomas Frandsen explains that the project is the first step towards establishing an actual centre of excellence on “Play and health” at the Children’s Hospital Copenhagen. The centre will serve as a hub of research into the application of play and activities in hospital treatment, with the possibility of testing play in clinical practice.