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A Closer Look at Recreation Therapy

January 20, 2016

What is Recreation Therapy at Canuck Place?

That’s a tough question to answer. The day to day happenings of the program are as unique as each child and family is. What’s important for one family and child in terms of their interests and abilities can be completely different from another.

A child who uses a wheelchair for mobility wants to go ziplining; Rec Therapists make that happen. A typical Tuesday night could find them organizing a movie outing for five children with very different interests. On another day, they’ll find out that it’s a sibling’s birthday and all of a sudden, cakes are ordered, an appropriate gift is found and wrapped, and a full party is planned.

Sometimes, when the end of a child’s life draws close, recreation therapists spend time creating lasting memories – jewelry from a fingerprint, a precious hair lock, moulds that capture every crease and line of a child’s hand.  These items can not take away the pain of losing a child, but it can make a memory a little more tangible.

It’s a never-ending job, but at Canuck Place it’s an incredibly rewarding profession.

Gillian and Amy are two of the recreation therapists at Canuck Place.

“Working with children is my passion.” said Amy. “I love being with the children and families. There are many difficult times that our children and families experience, but our hope is that the recreation program can provide opportunities to play and do lots of fun things as well.”

The Canuck Place recreation therapy team works to ensure that families can create lasting memories together, that children on our program can have as many of the same experiences as other kids their age as possible, and to empower older kids to continue to seek out these activities for themselves.

Letting kids just be kids is an important part of recreation therapy.

“On one sunny day, I organized an outing to Second Beach,” remembers Gillian. “I was pushing a young girl in her wheelchair and I saw her watching some children playing on the fire truck. I knew she desperately wanted to play with the other kids, but could tell she was having a hard time knowing how to successfully interact with them.”

“Part of my job is to advocate for the children of Canuck Place, and also help teach other children in the community how to be inclusive. We got her on the fire truck and I spoke with the other playground children about how best to include this little girl in their play. They welcomed her into their world and then she just had the biggest smile on her face. She was so happy, it’s one of my favourite memories.”

Children at Canuck Place have very specific needs, so a seemingly simple trip to the beach can require a detailed game plan and support system. In addition to these day-to-day activities, recreation therapy also plans multi-day events such as Summer in the City and two annual sleep away camps.

“Going to camp, we see these kids in a different environment – no parents, late bedtimes and lots of just hanging out with their friends” said Amy. “Camp is a place where anything is possible and everything is fair game.”

The recreation therapists at Canuck Place bring joy to the families they work with, but the joy they witness leaves a lasting impression on them as well.

Gillian explains, “It really is an honour to spend time with the children and families. To be included, in some small way on their journey, is such a gift to all of us”.

Amy and Gillian are featured in the Let Your Light Shine project.

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