These may or may not be a permanent feature in the nursery group. In the home this game may be an intermittent one or there may be an intense spate of hospital, sparked off either by some experience or receiving a gift which suggests this activity, which is never repeated. This inevitably reflects the children’s experience and sometimes their fears. It is usually the older children who enjoy it although younger ones may be persuaded to be the patient. Imminent visits to the dentist, doctor or hospitalization for any one child can set off the whole group. Sometimes the staff of a nursery or a mother at home may feel it would be a useful outlet or introduction to the idea of physical treatment.
The most usual provision is occasionally to give over thehouse space to being a hospital. The equipment already there can be used, removed temporarily or added to, depending on what it is. The bed, dolls’ beds, table and chairs are useful. The crockery and cooking gear can be removed or set out as a separate activity in a different place. Useful additions are the instruments children are usually familiar with – stethoscopes, disposable hypodermic syringes which have been well cleaned (obviously without a needle), bandages, plasters, cotton wool, one or two old kidney dishes. Other items such as nurses’ uni-form, smocks for the doctors and a large black bag are probably in the dressing-up box or cupboard already. Wooden spatulas for looking in mouths, small torches to look in ears and a dentist’s mirror can be supplied provided one makes sure the poor three-year-old patient is not damaged. Instructions to use these only on dolls tend to get conveniently forgotten as real mouths and ears are much more interesting. The play becomes much more intense when one of the children has just been in hospital. The pull-along truck may be used as a trolley, some kind of improvised light to fix to the doctor’s forehead may be demanded and one has to watch for undesirable or dangerous materials being produced as ‘medicine’. This danger is perhaps more acute in the home where there are more easily accessible substances than in the nursery group. For the child who has reacted badly to hospital this play can be virtually compulsive and is always valuable. For children who have not had such experience to familiarize themselves with white coats, caps and hypodermics hospital play may lead them to be less apprehensive of the real thing.