Best Gifts for Preschoolers in Hospital

by SusanM

How to pick the best gift for a preschooler in hospital

Hospital can be a scary place for a preschool child. It can also be boring. If children don't have the chance to play it can also stop normal childhood development.

Play is a vital part of children's health and development. This is why most hospitals treating children have dedicated play departments or play spaces. These help children follow their normal childhood development path while they are in hospital.

This means the right toy or play activity can be a helpful gift for a preschooler.

But how do you choose the right gift for preschoolers in hospital?

Choosing a Good Game for Hospital

A preschool child is ready for easy games.

Games are a great way for keeping a preschool child busy and distracted in hospital. They also help children learn in a fun way. Even the Mr Potato Head can help a child's development by helping them learn hand-eye coordination.

When choosing a game for a preschooler in hospital it can help to know how sick the child is feeling. A child who feels very tired and unwell may not want to play with a matching game or pegboard because these need concentration. Concentrating isn't easy to do when you feel sick. When a child is very sick something like the Snail's Pace Game can work better.

Also think about who the child has to play with. Are their grown ups that will play with the child? Do they have siblings who are visiting who need to be entertained too? If the child will be playing without help keep to something easy that can be played alone. If a grownup will be there to help they can make great playmates too for games that need a little help or more than one player. If siblings will be visiting it can be good to choose something everyone will enjoy. 

Pictured: Quercetti Junior Pegboard

Good Preschool Games for Hospital

Curious George Matching Game

The Wonder Forge

View on Amazon

Snail's Pace Race


View on Amazon

The Ladybug Game

Zobmondo Entertainment

View on Amazon

What Do Preschoolers in Hospital Need?

The needs of a preschooler in hospital are much the same as any preschool child. But there are certain needs that become more important during their time in hospital. 


So what does a preschooler in hospital need? They: 

1. need to feel safe.

2. need to have fun things to do

3. need to be creative and imagine

4. need to succeed at activities they enjoy

5. need to learn

Picture play sets are a good pretend play choice because they:

1. don't need a lot of space.

2. don't need a lot of energy to play with.

If a child is very sick though it's best to buy a felt picture set not a magnetic play set. This is because the felt pieces are much easier to peel off the board and move around. The magnetic pieces take more finger strength that a very sick child might not have. 

Play sets like this are also perfect for a child who can't sit up in bed to play. The play board can be positioned so the child can see it while lying in bed. The pieces are easy to play with while in bed too. 

Amazon has lots of choices in both the felt and magnetic sets to suit boys and girls.

Pictured: Days of the Dinosaurs Felt Set

Easy Pretend Play Toys for Hospital

Days of the Dinosaurs
Betty Lukens / Learning Fun with Felt
Magnetic Zoo Playboard
Smethport Specialty
Princess Castle Play Set
Hurricane Toys

Play is Good for Preschoolers in Hospital

Play is helpful for a preschool child in hospital because: 

1. Playful activities can encourage them to imagine, create and learn while in hospital.

2. Play also helps distract a child from things that go with being in hospital like not being able to be at home, having to have needles and not being able to run around and play like normal.

3. Being in hospital can also make a child feel scared, sad, angry or frustrated. Playful activities can help them express their feelings easily. 

But they may not want to do much because they feel sick. This means the right toy or activity that encourages them to be playful will help beyond just being a thoughtful gift.

Having a soft toy to cuddle can be soothing for a preschooler in hospital. A soft toy can be a friend to talk to about being in hospital. Someone to keep them company when mom or dad have to leave the bedside for a little while. It can also be something to hug when they need to have a needle. 

You can choose any soft toy that you think would make a nice friend. But you can also choose a soft toy that can make them feel safer too.

Preschool children have wonderful imaginations. You can help them use their imagination to cope with being in hospital by giving them a soft toy that is brave and strong. Toys like lions, tigers or dinosaurs can make a child feel like they are being protected by their new friend. BUT !!!! If you buy a "protector" soft toy don't give it to the child saying it is to protect them. This will make hospital more scary for the child. If they think a grown up need to give them something like a dinosaur to protect them things must be bad. Just give them the soft toy as you would any other soft toy. If they need to feel protected their imagination will create this role for their new friend without help from a grownup.

Pictured: My Pillow Pets Dinosaur

Essential Buying Tips for Hospital Gifts

You need to keep some things in mind when buying a gift for a child in hospital. 

  1. When a preschooler is in hospital the most important thing is to make them happy and keep them busy. The right toy or activity can do this.
  2. Not all toys or activities are a good choice for a preschooler in hospital. Ask yourself questions like: How sick is the child? Are they able to sit up in bed? To work out what the best gift will be. 
  3. When a preschooler feels sick you sometimes have to capture their interest again. You can do this by choosing something that matches their passions. This might be things like cars, princesses or animals. 
  4. Giving no mess toys or activities is important. If the hospital has a play room or child life worker messy activities will be organized by the hospital in a way that won't be too messy for the hospital or child. For gifts it's best to keep it no mess. 
  5. Decide whether you would like to buy a gift to distract the child from being in hospital. Help them with their feelings about being in hospital. Help them learn or be creative while they are in hospital. Or help them most when they go home. Then find a toy or activity that matches your goal. (You'll find the information you need to help you buy the right gift in this article.) 

Jigsaw puzzles are a good way for a preschool child to learn logical thinking and how to solve problems. You can help their learning while they are in hospital by giving them a new jigsaw puzzle to work out. 

When a child is sick the best jigsaw puzzle to buy is one about a topic you think they'll love. This might be something like a horse, rocket or fairy. This will help capture their interest when they're feeling sick.

It's also best not to buy one that's too hard. If a preschooler isn't too sick a 48 piece puzzle is the hardest you should buy as a gift. But if a child is sick a 24 piece puzzle is often better. A 48 piece puzzle can need to much work and concentration from a sick child. It also takes longer to do. This can make it frustrating if they are being interrupted for medical tests and examinations. So a 24 piece puzzle about something they are passionate is a good gift.

The Dress Up Wooden Bear Puzzle is a good choice too because it's easy to play with. It's also good for play that helps get feelings out because the bear faces have different expressions on them. This means a child can choose what they want the bear to be feeling.

Pictured: Dress Up Bear Puzzle

No mess craft activities are good ways to keep preschoolers busy and happy in hospital. No mess craft kits are usually a novelty for kids. So they capture a child's attention. This makes them a good distraction from being in hospital.

Craft activities also give a child a feeling of success when they finish the craft. This is good for a preschooler in hospital because they can't do the things that usually give them this feeling. 

Craft kits with stickers are wonderful because preschool kids love playing with stickers. They are also no mess. But most importantly they mean the craft can be stopped at any time for a medical test, examination or doctor's visit without being ruined. This makes them a good choice when a child is in hospital. 

Amazon has a lot of sticker based crafts kits for preschool boys and girls. Make sure you check the  recommended age level though because not all sticker crafts are for preschool children. If you choose one that is too hard you will only make the child feel more frustrated and less successful. 

Pictured: My First Sticky Mosaics Princess (available from Amazon)

Art materials are essential for any preschool child in hospital. Being in hospital creates so many big emotions for a child. One of the best ways to help them cope with these feelings by letting them creating art on blank paper. Coloring books and art activities aren't as good for a child's emotions as drawing or painting on paper. 

For a younger preschooler, one with poor coordination or for a child that is very sick it's best to give them thick chunky crayons or markers. This is because the thickness of these art materials makes them easier to hold and draw with. If a child is very ill thick markers are the best choice. This is because markers take less energy to play with than crayons. 

For older preschool children or those who aren't too sick standard crayons or markers are fine. But it's best to buy them the sets with lots of colors. This is because the wide range of colors will help their creativity. It will also distract them from being in hospital better than the sets with less colors. For children who are very sick it's more important they can use the art materials easily. So it's better to have thicker markers with fewer colors in the set.

Play Doh is also a good choice for 3D art play and creativity. But this might be too hard to play with for a child who is very sick. This is because Play Doh needs hand strength to play with. 

Have you ever felt so frustrated or angry that you just wanted to hit something?

Preschoolers in hospital can feel like this too. They can be so frustrated or angry they feel like they're going to burst. Having a toy like this Punch and Drop to hit can help them get those feelings out without bursting. 

This toy can also help kids who aren't able to move about like usual. Hitting something can help get some of that unused energy out. 

What About Coloring Books?

I don't usually recommend coloring books for preschool kids. This is because they aren't the best choice to help kids be creative. But when a child is in hospital sometimes they feel too sick or tired to create their own picture. At these times a coloring book can keep them happy and busy without needing too much effort

A coloring book about anything they are interested in will work. You can find coloring books about hospital too. These might be helpful for a child to work through and better understand their hospital experience. But a hospital coloring book might also be the last thing a preschooler in hospital  wants to play with. They might just have too much "hospital" already. If you would like to include a hospital coloring book because it can sometimes be helpful it's best to include a few other coloring books that aren't about hospital too. This lets the child choose when they want to play. This is usually the best way to introduce a hospital coloring book if it's to be helpful. 

The Anti-Coloring Book series is a good choice if you would like to encourage creativity during the hospital stay. These books are part coloring book and part drawing book. Rather than create a whole picture a child only needs to finish it in a creative way. This can be easier than creating a whole picture when you feel sick or tired. But because each picture has a short instruction a grown up will need to read this out to the preschooler before they start drawing and coloring in the picture.

Pictured: Page from the Anti-Coloring Book. The instructions for this drawing are " A group of explorers found a rare bird deep in the jungle. They sent back this drawing of the bird sitting in the tree." 

Good Coloring Books for Hospital

The Anti-Coloring Book
Holt Paperbacks
Jumbo Coloring Pad - Blue
Melissa & Doug
At the Hospital Coloring Book
Dover Publications

This type of gift can be better for a child who has just come home from hospital, rather than a child who's still in hospital. This is because a preschool child works out how the world works and what has happened to them through play.

Playing hospital can help a preschool child understand their hospital experience. It can help them gain mastery over it and feel less scared. But many children want to be distracted from hospital while they are actually in hospital. They want to think about and do other things. These children often start to think about hospital and work things out after they're safe at home. This is when a hospital toy has great value for them. 

Building toys are another good logical thinking and problem solving toy. Blocks are also good to teach preschool kids about math. This means blocks are a good learning toy for a preschooler in hospital. 

Block play is also good for hospital because it can be done sitting up in bed. It does not take up much room. It also absorbs the child's attention which mean it's a great toy for distracting them from being in hospital. 

But if the child has an IV in their hand (also called a "drip") a block set might not be a good gift. This is because an IV in their hand can stop them from moving their hand properly. You need two hands to snap the blocks together. Blocks can also be hard work for a child who is very sick. So it's best to check if a preschooler in hospital will be able to play with blocks before you buy them. 

Pictured: Duplo Pink Bricks

More Helpful Ideas

How to find books for your child and use them to help explain a trip to hospital.
Which art and craft activities are good gifts for children in hospital?

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Updated: 09/13/2012, SusanM
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