GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A new playground at Mary Free Bed Hospital in Grand Rapids is allowing kids to advance their therapy in non-traditional therapy methods. Many kids might not even realize they're doing therapy while playing on the stairs, climbing wall or play set.
In 2018, an outdoor playground was built outside of the hospital. Due to recent expansion on campus, the playground was removed and rebuilt in its new larger space, for indoor year-round play.
At first, therapists learned there was no plan to revive the playground as there was not enough space. The hospital, however, eventually came up with a plan with the help of therapists on staff.
Playground equipment like the slide and large-scale chimes were part of the original play area, which was added to the new indoor one. Therapists also designed other features, such as large steps to re-create oversized bus steps which can become challenging for kids with mobility issues. The indoor climbing wall was also added, designed and constructed by one of Mary Free Bed's therapists on staff.
"The playground just makes it really fun because of everything you can do in it," said 16-year-old Lilly Klingenberg, who is currently doing outpatient therapy at the hospital. "It’s a bigger place, and you’re not in a small, enclosed room with just a mat in it, and you can do more things."
Therapists say kids often react more positively to therapy when doing sessions in the playground and may not even realize they are doing hard tasks working towards a goal.
"That’s a key piece of being a pediatric therapist is trying to disguise what we are doing for the child. We want them to come here and have fun. Obviously it’s going to be hard work, but we want it to be work that is enjoyable for them," said Physical Therapist Andrea Dennis.