Making Physical Therapy Fun
By Katie Wilkins, Physical Therapist
When a child comes to physical therapy at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, we strive to make it a fun and interactive experience. We want children to try their best, and we work to find activities that they enjoy while strengthening their muscles or learning new skills.
Babies love to play with bright, colorful rattles, balls and musical toys. At all of our clinics we have an abundance of interactive and interesting toys for babies. At times we will ask families to bring in a baby’s favorite toy to make the environment feel more like home. I once had a dad bring in the family’s TV remote control and, as a result, I had the best session working with this particular baby.
For toddlers and preschoolers, I love to set up obstacle courses. I may have the child start with a wheelbarrow walk, then crawl through a tunnel, jump like a bunny on a mini-trampoline, hop between frog lily pads, practice their balance by stepping over large obstacles, and finish by log rolling up/down an incline mat. When preschoolers or young children are learning to maneuver wheelchairs, I will set up cones with bean bags on top and see if they can navigate through the obstacle course without knocking over the bean bags. Kids have the best imaginations, so the best obstacle courses always contain adventures like going on a picnic, travelling to a princess castle, or visiting the zoo. Creativity and fun are key motivators to young children in therapy.
Playing outside is always so much fun for kids and a way to show parents activities they can practice more at home. Our Burnsville and St. Paul locations have an outdoor playground. Climbing up ladders and through tunnels is excellent abdominal and leg strengthening. I often practice bike riding outside. Scavenger hunts outside always include an uphill walk, curbs to climb, and thick grass to tromp through. Children are often unaware they are strengthening their legs and working on their balance. To the child we may be going on a scavenger hunt, but I can find those teachable moments when the child bends down to pick up a rock to work on strengthening while he/she is squatting.
Adolescents find therapy at Gillette motivating and challenging. At all of our Gillette locations, we have the Wii available to work on balance and strength activities. I often set up cones and agility ladders to simulate soccer, basketball or gym class drills. We will go outside to practice throwing and catching balls, running drills, or walking with a new walker or crutches. I will set up a simulated errand to a grocery store practicing reaching up on shelves and squatting down to put items under the cart. I often play trivia games or play music while they are exercising on a treadmill, stationary bike or stretching. I can videotape skills they are learning to help them refine their technique. We strive to create a safe environment for adolescents to practice new skills or return to the activities they enjoy.
All of our Gillette locations have the equipment, expertise and environment to provide high quality care that is fun and engaging. By providing playful and fun therapy for children of all ages, we are able to help our patients get back to doing what they do best, which is being a kid!