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Child life specialists' evaluation of hospital playroom design: A mixed method inquiry


Biophilic elements in hospital playrooms support child life goals

This study addressed two goals: (1) examine if child life specialists could use photograph analysis to make fine distinctions among hospital playrooms; and (2) explore hospital playroom features preferred by child life specialists based on their professional values and the goals of child life. Child life specialists are health care professionals who work with children and families in hospitals and other settings to help them cope with the challenges of medical treatments, hospitalization, illness, injury, and disability.

Ninety child life specialists completed a survey which included multiple colored photographs of five hospital playrooms. The photographs provided a thorough view of each playroom. The participants were asked to rate each playroom on 14 dimensions, describe what they liked best about each playroom, and rank the playrooms based on the room’s ability to support child life goals.

Both the rankings and ratings provided by the child life specialists indicate that they were able to use photographs to make meaningful distinctions among the five playrooms. Survey responses also indicate that child life specialists favor playrooms with specific design features and playrooms that support the values and goals of the child life profession. The top valued design features included biophilic elements (elements that appeal to humans’ inherent affinity for nature), appealing color and décor, and open space. Also preferred were playrooms which promote sensory-motor and pretend play.

A preference for hospital playrooms with biophilic elements was evident from both the child life specialists’ ranking of the playrooms and their responses to the open questions on the survey. Their ranking order was consistent with Biophilic Design Matrix (BDM) scores. The BDM assesses the variety and extent of biophilic attributes present in an environment and has proven useful in child life and healthcare contexts. Of eleven themes that emerged in the participants’ responses to an open question about what they liked best about the playrooms depicted in the photos, “nature elements” received top rating.

This study calls attention to the value of biophilia in child life play spaces. Examples of biophilic dimensions appropriate for such play spaces include windows providing natural light and windows with nature views, a variety of colors found in nature, and other nature-related motifs. Additional biophilic attributes of the BDM might also be considered. Adding biophilic elements to child life spaces would be consistent with recently updated standards developed by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation. One such standard specifically lists biophilia as an aspect of human-centered design.


Weinberger, N., Butler, A.G., Schumacher, P.A., Brown, R.L., McGee, B., (2017). Child life specialists' evaluation of hospital playroom design: A mixed method inquiry. Journal of Interior Design, 42(2), 71-91.


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