Playing For Health: Therapeutic Game Design




At this time, the College is planning to operate all summer programs as scheduled and there are no changes to academic nor residential logistics for these programs. This is an evolving situation and future decisions about summer programs will be made based on the College’s coordination with government and public health officials concerning COVID-19.

Please be assured that any changes or cancellations made by the College will amend our refund policy and allow for refunds. Additionally, should any government policies restrict a registered student from participating in a summer program, a refund will also be processed.

Sarah Lawrence has established a webpage where all updates about the College’s response to COVID-19 are posted. You are encouraged to review all sections of the page and to check back frequently to stay on top of the latest developments.​

July 12–31, 2020

The act of playing is an integral part of childhood. In this program, students will learn to code and build video games and electronic board games for children with special needs at the Elizabeth Seton Children's Center.

Whether it’s a board game that can be operating by the push of a button, or a video game with a modified controller, students will design games to meet the needs of pediatric residents in a real medical setting—underscoring the philosophy that all children should have access to play, regardless of their limitations.

Topics covered include Python and Arduino programming, “toy hacking”, circuit design, introduction to the medical setting, and more. This program is ideal for those interested in pre-med, medical engineering and computer science who are looking to gain real world experience with professionals in the field.

No prior experience is necessary, but students should possess a spirit of openness, respect, and helpfulness. They will be challenged to look within themselves and share thoughts with their classmates about ability, special needs, and acceptance—and how their own unique gifts can make a difference. Questions such as what it means to help, why it is important, and what students can offer the children at ESPC both in terms of adapted games and with their own presence will be considered.

Students in the past have applied their experience towards fulfilling service-learning requirements in their high schools. Instructors are available to work with students to customize classwork to fit service requirements as neededThe total number of hours completed is individualized and dependent on the student's work.

We welcome students entering the 10th, 11th, or 12th grades the following fall. Commuter students must be age 14 or older at the start of the program. Residential students must be age 15 or older at the start of the program.


Program Details


Morning Class—“Visual Programming”

Students will learn the basics of software computer programming, first tackling the fundamentals of computer code in Javascript and/or Python (variables, arrays, functions, and objects) and then learning to apply these fundamentals to project development. Students will work in pairs on coding projects and meet one-on-one with the instructor once a week.

Afternoon Class—“Hardware Hacking”

The afternoon class moves our interactions with computers from the digital to the physical, through an exploration of firmware programming and hardware circuits. Students will learn corresponding fundamentals of computer code (variables, arrays, functions, and objects) in hardware applications. They will also learn the basics of Arduino microcontrollers and circuit design in working with voltage, resistance, and amps. They will develop physical mechanisms to control graphical interfaces and other projects developed in the morning course. Students will work in pairs on projects and meet one-on-one with the instructor once a week.

Workshop—“Introduction to the Medical Setting: Pediatrics and Possibilities”

This workshop will prepare students for site visits to the Elizabeth Seton Students Pediatric Center, a residential care center for children with disabilities and medically complex needs. Topics covered will include an overview of the machines at the Center, what a typical day is like for a resident of the Center, and infection control. Students will learn about the ways in which the residents interact with their environment and protocols for being at the Center.

Students will research and present on a topic—such as a commons diagnosis—to the class. They will work together to imagine life for residents, including role playing different scenarios and discussing case studies. They will also experiment with simple toy switch hacks to increase residents’ accessibility to toys and games.

“My goal for the students is to have fun and try new things. I hope the students will become familiar and comfortable with children with special needs and be themselves. I would love to see thinking outside the box in order to help the residents at ESPC have an experience any other child can have.” —James Maxson

Sample Projects

  • Adapting games to a child’s abilities while taking into consideration their constraints
  • Developing a virtual music space
  • Prototyping a sensory toy that can be used by children with varying abilities
  • Creating individualized solutions for the challenges each child faces



James Maxson

James MaxsonJames Maxson is a music therapist at the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center (ESPC). He will be visiting the Playing for Health Program to teach a community impact course and will facilitate ESPC site visits.

As a music therapist, James works with residents and staff of ESPC, creating music within a humanistic and client-centered framework. James has collaborated with students and instructors at NYU, Montclair State University, Molloy College, SUNY New Paltz, and Sarah Lawrence College. He has taught music therapy and provided opportunities for students and instructors to create adapted technology for residents of the ESPC. He has also conducted workshops with DIYAbility on the fundamentals of adapting toys for individuals with special needs.

James sources equipment and parts for making and adapting toys and instruments at the ESPC. He also leads and organizes the initiative for iPad integration into daily life for residents of ESPC. He was recently appointed to the position of “Innovation Media Developer” to account for the work he has done with producing videos with residents and staff that further the ESPC mission and online presence, garnering tens of thousands of views on Facebook and YouTube.

Avery Erwin-McGuire

Avery Erwin-McGuireAvery Erwin-McGuire is an independent software engineer and educator. Her undergraduate degree in computer science from Goucher college focused on both computational theory and embedded engineering. During her time there, she conducted research into robotic artificial intelligence. She was awarded the Phi Beta Kappa Nancy Engelhardt Memorial Prize in the Sciences for her work using two-player games as an environment to demonstrate heuristic decision making.

Prior to her independent work, Avery was a software engineer in the computer chip industry designing low level real-time code for robots and sensor systems in factory settings. Now she creates and teaches technology and engineering workshops to the children and adults in the Westchester area. Her educational style focuses on what she believes are the vital engineering instincts and habits—things like tolerance of frustration, fairness, and systematic reasoning—without sacrificing academic rigor.

Teaching Approach

  • James Maxson: I approach teaching as a dynamic interaction between myself and the students. I want to push students to the best of their abilities while supporting them in what challenges them both intellectually and emotionally, as this course might introduce students to new experiences.
  • Avery Erwin-McGuire: When you take a class with me, expect to come in ready to be a part of a warm and rigorous environment. I think technology is for everyone—absolute beginners are welcome! It’s my job to meet students where they are, and lead them to edge of their knowledge. I value developing the intellectual confidence of each student by challenging them to rise beyond their limits and try something that feels really hard. Feeling frustrated means that your brain is getting stronger!

Sample Schedule

8:30 - 9:30 a.m. Breakfast (and time for conferences with faculty)
10 a.m. - Noon Morning Class—“Visual Programming”
Noon - 1:30 p.m. Lunch (and time for conferences with faculty)
1:30 - 3:30 p.m. Afternoon Class—“Hardware Hacking”
3:30 - 5 p.m. “Introduction to the Medical Setting”; site visits (will start at 3 p.m.); group work; project work
5 - 7 p.m. Break, Dinner (and time for conferences with faculty)
7 - 11 p.m. Optional Summer Programs community building programs on campus
11 p.m. Curfew (midnight on weekends)

Program Costs

Registration fee $50
Deposit $250
Remaining tuition $2,928
Non-A/C Housing $1,900
A/C Housing $2,350
Meal Plan*

$1,047 (full)

$379 (lunch only)

*Residential students under age 18 are required to have the full plan and commuter students under age 18 are required to minimally have the lunch plan.

Students are strongly encouraged to bring their own laptop.

Limited financial assistance is available for this program. Please apply by April 1 to be considered. Should Sarah Lawrence be unable to provide the necessary amount possible for you to attend, a full refund of your registration fee and deposit will be provided.

There is a limited number of air-conditioned rooms available on campus. Please register and deposit early to secure an air-conditioned room should you plan to reside on campus.