Young children are getting hands-on health education while Pullman Regional Hospital is getting awesome artwork to hang on its walls. It’s a perfect town and gown partnership.

The Washington State University Children’s Center, which is open to the children of WSU students, faculty, and staff, is working with the hospital on a program called Health Education and Art (HEART). The children, ranging from toddlers up to school-age kids, are doing a series of art projects that also serve to talk and teach about being healthy.

The first round of projects was completed last month, and the art is currently hanging on the walls at the hospital.

“They’re really uplifting,” said Noel Nicolai, the healthy communities education coordinator with the hospital’s Center for Learning & Innovation. “We’ve heard from many hospital staff about how great it is to see the colors and stimulation.”

Nicolai contacted the Children’s Center to see if they were interested in participating in the program, and Heather Havey, the Center’s director, quickly agreed.

The artwork comes in many varieties, Havey said.

One project involved marking their art room in six-foot intervals, then having the kids squeeze bottles of paint as they pretended to sneeze. They had different colors, so they could track the distance and spray of their “sneezes.” The kids were surprised at how far droplets from a sneeze can travel.

“We showed them why it’s important to always sneeze into your elbow and demonstrated why everyone is wearing masks now,” Havey said. “We even had some masks on the paper on the ground to show how they protect you. The art room was a mess, but the kids had a fun, educational experience.”

Some of that sneeze art is now on display at the Pullman hospital, although the only people that can see it due to COVID-19 restrictions are hospital staff and patients.

Havey said the HEART program fit perfectly with the educational philosophy of the center.

“Everything kids do at this age is educational,” she said. “It’s a cumulative education, where combining health education with art was easy for our teachers. Meaningful experience is more impactful and allows them to learn at their own rate.”

Another art project from the first round of the program involved a lesson on contact tracing for school-age children. Those students put a length of thread through a plastic grid, then passed that on to the next student.

“After it went around the room, it was a three-dimensional work of art created by the entire class,” Havey said. “Then we asked them where their threads came together. It was a great way to demonstrate the different ways people connect.”

For the hospital, it’s about more than just giving their staff something colorful to look at.

“It reminds us that we have a big, loving community here,” Nicolai said. “Plus, this shows the intersection that science and art can have. We’re really impressed by what the Children’s Center is doing, and we can’t wait to see the next round of artwork.”

Students recently finished art projects that focus on mindfulness and kindness. They will be displayed soon, as all the projects spend a few days in quarantine before going up on the hospital walls.

They used things like spirographs for calming, and talking about skin color, making one large painting using all the different skin tones found on students in the room, Havey said.

Both the Children’s Center and Pullman Regional Hospital hope to keep the program going long-term.

“We’re letting the kids lead us on some of these projects,” she said. “They keep asking what the next project is.”