Focus on Pediatrics: Make health fairs a lesson in opportunity

Planning is key to success

Health fairs shouldn’t just target adults but kids, too. "Don’t think that parents are your only customer. The way children react to an institution will affect the parents," says Hallie Bloom, MS, MA, CCLS, director of Child Life at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN.

Therefore, health fairs provide an opportunity to help children develop a more positive perspective about health care and have some control that can make a big difference in their behavior the next time they have to go to the doctor, she says. For example, creating a huge medical collage is a way to help children become familiar and comfortable with medical equipment in a nonthreatening environment. They add syringes, cotton swabs, gauze pads, and masks to the huge art project.

Providing booths for children at health fairs is a good way to help them become familiar with medical interventions that they may have, agrees Chris Brown, MS, CCLS, director of Child Life and Education at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. One idea she uses at school health fairs is finger casting, where each child gets a plaster cast on his or her finger while learning about the purpose of a cast and how bones heal. "If they ever do break a bone and end up in the emergency department, the knowledge empowers them and helps them feel they have control over the situation," she explains.

While a booth targeting children is a good idea, there are several factors to consider when planning an activity, says Pauline King, MS, RN, CS, director for children’s programming and psychosocial clinical nurse specialist at James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute in Columbus, OH. Plans for a health fair booth aimed at children should consider the following:

Projected number of children.

Ask the organizers how many children they expect at the fair, says King. It helps when determining a budget for supplies and the number of personnel needed to work the booth. King sets up an educational booth for children each year at the Columbus Arts Festival where she has an opportunity to reach more than 1,600 kids in two days.

Tailor event to audience

Type of population attending.

It’s important to know the different ages of the children attending and what medical knowledge they have. Some children have never had experiences with doctors, hospitals or health care and others may have had a lot, explains Bloom.

For example, at one health fair, she set up a video camera and let children tell their doctor what they liked best about the medical experience, what they would like to see changed, and what frightened them. While the video gave children an opportunity to express themselves, it also helped staff when they were given an opportunity to review it.

Flow of people through booths. It is important to have the line at the booth move swiftly; therefore, the intervention should not take too long. Select an activity where you can reach many people in a short period of time, suggests King. One year, King had a skin cancer prevention booth with the message "Block the Sun, not the Fun."

To reinforce the message "Slip on a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on the SPF 15 sunscreen," children were given sunscreen and decorated a painter’s hat with fabric blow pens that they could wear home. To expedite the process, Styrofoam dummy heads were set up all around the station.

Also, there should be enough staff on hand to allow for breaks without slowing down the activity at the booth. "We usually have someone outside our booth who talks about what can be done at our station and what to do to keep things going smoothly," says King.

• Available space. Space can be very limited at health fairs, so you should make do and set up your station in a way that is most efficient in serving a number of kids at one time, says King.

• Way to get theme across. "Give your project or intervention a label that immediately tells your prospective clients what you are focusing on," says King. For example, one booth she organized had an anti-tobacco message, so the label was "No Excusing for Using." Slogans are good ways to make the message brief and memorable, she says.

To drive home the anti-tobacco message, King provided felt squares and children who pledged not to use tobacco products traced their hand on the square and filled the outline with sparkle color. Later all the squares were sewn together to create a communal anti-tobacco quilt that is hung in libraries and schools to provide continuing education on the topic.

Health fairs at schools are a good way to reach children but in general families may not attend a regular health fair because it is just one more thing for them to do, says King. It’s best to find opportunities for health education at other major community events such as an arts festival or at an event at the zoo. In that way, families are more likely to come, she adds.


For more information about creating booths for children at health fairs, contact:

Hallie Bloom, MS, MA, CCLS, Director Child Life, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 332 N. Lauderdale, Memphis, TN 38105-2794. Telephone: (901) 495-2753.

Chris Brown, MS, CCLS, Director Child Life and Education, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 34th St. and Civic Center Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19104. Telephone: (215) 590-2001. E-mail:

Pauline King, MS, RN, CS, Director for Children Programming and Psychosocial Clinical Nurse Specialist, James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, 300 W. 10th Ave., Room 004, Columbus, OH 43210. Telephone: (614) 293-4138.