‘Kamp out’ aids kids in dealing with death

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Iowa City Hospice has worked hard to create a day dedicated to aid children in dealing with death.

By Kayli Reese

Children play with bubbles in the Coralridge Mall Parking Lot on Sunday as part of PLAYvolution. This particular event is a two-week-long Johnson County movement featuring a series of activities which encourage children and adults to get outside and play.

Kamp Kaleidoscope kids spent a fun day Jan. 28 making friends and crafts despite the ever-pressing discussion hanging through the air — the subject of death.

Kimberly Peterson of Iowa City Hospice said the one-day camp focuses on helping children understand grief and provides support in the wake of a death of a loved one. Kamp Kaleidoscope was put on by the Iowa City Hospice bereavement counselors and volunteers.

This is the second such Kamp Kaleidoscope event, Peterson said. Iowa City Hospice began this event for children in June 2016, she said.

“At Iowa City Hospice, we’re always evaluating our services,” she said. “We wanted to expand support for children and youth.”

Emily Mozena, a Hospice volunteer and a University of Iowa lecturer in the graduate Child Life Program, said Kamp Kaleidoscope in June was very successful, and more children participated in the January event. She said Iowa City Hospice hopes to have Kamp Kaleidoscope events twice a year.

The camp supports children who have lost someone close to them, she said, be it a grandparent, parent, or sibling.

Peterson said kids can come to the camp more than one time, and any of the children can receive any follow-up support needed.

“[The camp is] a really safe space for kids to talk about death,” Mozena said, noting how difficult it can be for children to speak about such heavy topics in schools. “It’s amazing to listen and see what the kids are willing to share.”

After starting the day by decorating bags and participating in silly icebreakers, Mozena said, the kids began delving into the heavier emotions the camp focuses on. The theme of this event was seasons, she said, and the kids spent time thinking of memories with their deceased loved ones that can be associated with each season. Some of these memories, she said, include building snowmen, playing with water balloons, and jumping in leaves.

A music therapist also participated, Mozena said, creating a song based on the kids’ memories. During the closing ceremony for parents, she said, the kids agreed to perform the song.

A nurse from the Hospice also came to the camp, she said, to answer any questions the kids had about the circumstances surrounding their loved one’s death. She said talking compassionately but plainly with the kids helps to minimize questions and creates less confusion.

“Open communication with the kids and using simpler terms is key,” Mozena said. “Using the ‘D-words’ — death and dying — is very important.”

Kelsey Tebbe, a volunteer for Kamp Kaleidoscope and UI graduate student in Child Life, said she found it amazing how the kids opened up to each other and the volunteers in only a day. In the beginning, she said, the kids were shy, but they quickly were able to talk openly and comfort one another.

Tebbe noted that she found the ability of kids, some who were only 6 years old, to understand their feelings surrounding death, using big words to describe their emotions.

During the day’s events, she said she learned important methods and resources to practice later in her field, citing the experience as extremely eye-opening. By taking time to build each child’s trust, Tebbe said, the kids were able to leave Kamp Kaleidoscope with a better outlook and better understanding of coping.

“With a 6-year-old, you don’t always know what they’re going through by looking at them,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to talk.”

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