Starting your adventure

I get many e-mails from people interested in the Child Life profession asking me how and where to start. I created this roadmap to help out fellow child life-ers on their journey. Please keep in mind, everyone’s adventure in child life is different and the road is not always smooth – that’s all part of the fun!

**Click the following link for an official “roadmap” from the Child Life Council, http://www.childlife.org/docs/default-source/certification/candidate-manual.pdf  **

Packing checklist: 

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  • A genuine desire to work with children. You’re going to be with working with children at their best and at their worst. If the sound of a child crying makes your skin crawl, this may not be for you.
  • A strong love for all things child development – at the end of this you’ll be able to recite Erikson’s stages of development in your sleep.
  • The ability to be able to handle seeing bodily fluids & medical procedures (cuts, vomit, blood, shots, etc.) – I feel that during your adventure you become accustomed to handling more and more, however, if the thought alone of blood makes you queasy, you may need to start becoming mentally prepared to work in a hospital environment – the doctors you work with aren’t going to want two patients! (You don’t always HAVE to watch medical procedures being done to a patient (I’ve sometimes hidden behind an iPad myself when providing distraction when things get too hard to watch) but seeing blood and other bodily fluids as a child life specialist is very common – be prepared.)
  • Understanding that this is a long adventure with lots of twists and turns – after I completed my Bachelor’s degree, it took me about a year and a half to become a working certified child life specialist.
  • Join the Child Life Council – it’s not required, but it’s a great resource to network with fellow child life students and professionals.

 First stop: Bachelors Degree

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The beginning of my journey with Child Life began in college so this is where I will start the road map. Some colleges offer a Child Life major, but there are many that do not. My university did not offer a Child Life major so I majored in Child Development and Spanish. I know some Child Life Specialists that majored in something unrelated and minored in Child development or psychology or education… you do not need your degree to be a Child Life degree. What you need are at least 10 courses relating to Child life (child development, psychology, education, etc). After you’ve completed your Bachelor’s degree, you may begin the Child Life Council’s Eligibility Assessment: http://www.childlife.org/Certification/Getting%20Certified/CourseWorkReview.cfm – this part can be a little confusing since the Child Life Council is in the middle of changing its system for this part of the journey.

**Changes like these are common throughout your adventure – Child Life is a relatively new career and the Child Life Council may change rules/requirements to help the profession grow**

If you’re confused about  the transition between the old and new system, read my post on Course Work Review to Eligibility Assessment: https://adventuresinchildlife.com/2014/05/14/course-work-review-eligibility-assessment-service/

Another thing to keep in mind during your college career is your “Intro to Child Life” course taught by a Certified Child Life Specialist. This is a requirement for all applicants entering the field. Many universities do not offer this course so you many need to take it online. I took this course online at the University of New Hampshire – do your research and see if maybe a university in your state offers this course, if not, out of state tuition it is!

Now your adventure becomes your own:

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Here is where you come to a fork in the road,  you can either:

  • Move straight into grad school and complete your master’s degree – by the year 2022 it will be a requirement of the Child Life Council to have your masters degree – http://www.childlife.org/files/AcademicTFRecommendations-Website.pdf
  • Volunteer with a Child Life department- It is so important to volunteer and really get a feel for working with children in hospitals – it’s not for everyone, and you can learn a lot about yourself and your desire to become a Child Life Specialist by volunteering. Volunteering is not a requirement but when applying to practicums/internships, you’ll be able to show that you have experience which will set you ahead of the competition.
  • Apply for your practicum – a practicum is like a mini-internship. You do a lot of observing and really get to know what Child Life is all about in a hospital setting. A practicum is not a requirement, but it truly does prepare you for your internship in so many ways. Also, it’s something else that can set you ahead of the competition when applying for internships. I strongly encourage Child Life students to complete a practicum – this is your chance to observe and understand what to do in certain situations. During your internship, you’ll be doing more hands on work and if you haven’t had any previous experience, it can be very overwhelming and terrifying! I remember thinking to myself so many times during my internship “Thank goodness I did a practicum before this!”
  • Apply for an internship – some internship programs require you to be affiliated with a university (master’s programs tend to require internships to be done during the time you’re getting our degree), some require you to have completed a practicum, and some only require your course work review/eligibility assessment. Do your research and find out what the programs you’re interested in require. The completion of your internship is your “golden ticket” for the next stop in your adventure…

Becoming Certified: 

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Time to bring back all of your Child Development and Child Life textbooks from the beginning of your adventure! Now that you have completed your internship, you are at the point in your adventure where you are eligible to sit for the certification exam. There will be lots of reading, coffee, and post-its on this stop. Be prepared! Click the following link for information on the exam: http://www.childlife.org/certification/the-exam/exam-content-outline

Next stop: Employment
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It is possible to be hired as a Child Life Specialist without having completed/passed your certification exam. Some hospitals give you a one year window to receive certification.

You are now an employed Certified Child Life Specialist…
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One of the things that I love most about this career is that there is no ending point! You have many opportunities to continue growing and learning.

& your adventure continues

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Here are some examples of ways your Adventure In Child Life continues:

Happy travels, fellow Child Life-ers!  

** This roadmap is intended to assist in providing a clear view of the steps involved in becoming a Certified Child Life Specialist. There are non-traditional Child Life roles that have not been mentioned in this post. For official rules and requirements, visit http://www.ChildLife.Org **

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12 thoughts on “Starting your adventure

  1. I recently found out that this is my calling in life! The only setback is that I’m almost 30 and the closest college with a child life program is an hour away. I know I’m late but I hope one day I can become a child life specialist and make kids and their families smile in tough times.

    • I am 36 and just started working full time two years ago. If child life is your passion go for it don’t let your age stop you from following your heart.

    • I’m 42 and am graduating with a degree in Child Psychology this month. I took my Intro to Child Life class onilne through the University of California Santa Barbara, have volunteered at two hospitals, and will begin my internship in January. Don’t let your age stop you… you’re still young and you’re headed that way anyway!! 🙂

      • Hi Janice,
        Just saw your reply from about a year ago but have just moved to the area and am looking at the UCSB CLS program and was wondering if you found your internship yourself of it the program helps you? Also, did you find a program nearby as I am not having any luck looking online for volunteering in Santa Barbara or close to. Thanks!

  2. This just made my night! I have been researching all day about things and you totally just simplified it, I really appreciate it 🙂 I am so excited to start looking into classes. Currently I am a Teacher’s Assistant in a Third Grade classroom and love it. But I have always have an interest in the medical field and Child Life Specialist has always had a calling for me. I was a Kinesiology major in college and I am thinking of taking the 10 classes and going for the certificate. Do you recommend getting the Masters? I think I will be done before 2021 and I will always be able to keep up my certificate. I am moving to Baltimore this June and I am ready to search for volunteer hours/work/internships!!

    Thanks again for sharing this blog 🙂

  3. I was in the middle of a career change. I thought for the longest time I was going to Be an Occupational Therapist. I realized it wasn’t for me and Children where my first love. I’m in the process of looking for schools online. I’ll be 29 in the fall, I already have my bachelor’s in liberal arts. So I’m looking for Online Master Programs. Right now I’m torn between 2 schools and debating if i should go back in Jan or wait until sept since theres mostly fall only accepted programs. Thanks for sharing this blog. wish I knew about the child life field sooner. better late than never I suppose

  4. HI Janice, thanks for sharing your thoughts- I’m 37 and a stay-at-home mother thinking about moving into a career in Child Life now that my kids are older – but I do debate whether I am too “old” to enter the profession. I have a Masters in Education, and there is a Child Life Masters program in my city which I could apply to, which is almost too good to be true! I hope to find a volunteer position soon so that I can see if this path is the right fit for me! I would love to hear more about your progress. Much luck to you!!

  5. Hello! I’m in love with the idea of becoming a child life Specialist. I’m concerned though about job competition. Can you offer any ideas I could do at a hospital with a child life degree,if not a specialist? As a back up until a postion opened?

  6. Hello! I am a senior at ASU and have been looking into the Child Life Specialist position for a career after graduation. I am planning on going for my masters first, but reading through this blog has confirmed that this is the career path I want to pursue! I have heard that it is hard to find positions because the field is so competitive! Do you have any advice on ways to make myself stand out in the field? Thank you!

  7. Hi,
    Thank you for this blog. It’s so informative! I’m 42 and I’ve been an intervention teacher for struggling readers and writers for the past 19 years. Do you know if it’s possible to keep a full time teaching job and complete my internship? It looks like internships around me (NJ) are all full time 40 hours a week. Thank you!!!

    • Hello Lisa,

      Thank you for reading my blog! Unfortunately, internships do have a 40 hour a week time commitment. Perhaps you could apply for a summer internship while school is out!

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