A place to play — and learn

The School of Health Professions recently dedicated its inclusive playground — a space that encourages equal access to play for all and provides hands-on learning opportunities for MU students.

  • an inclusive playground
    Mizzou’s inclusive playground is open to all School of Health Professions-associated programs, including use by adult clients in the physical and occupational therapy programs.

May 23, 2022
Contact: Deidra Ashley,

No matter the age or ability, most children love to play. To ensure equal access to recreation and provide hands-on learning experiences that use play as a mode of therapy, the University of Missouri School of Health Professions recently built an inclusive playground.

Nestled in the courtyard between Mizzou’s Lewis and Clark Halls, the School of Health Professions’ (SHP) new inclusive playground inspires people of all ages and abilities to do some exploring of their own. The space, which is available to SHP-related programs, features tiger paw footprints that lead to wheelchair-accessible structures, towers that include a Braille station and a music keyboard and drums. Swings adapt to various mobility levels, an enclosed merry-go-round ensures safety and a basketball hoop adjusts to many heights. A communication board helps children identify and share what they’d like to do, or where they’d like to play.

“It’s important for children of all abilities to get outside and be active,” said Christi Baker, associate clinical professor and director of the Robert G. Combs Language Preschool. “Studies have shown that children who have speech and language challenges are more vocal when they’re moving and playing — especially outside, which brings new experiences to talk about. This space on Mizzou’s campus helps encourage that.”

Plans for the playground began around 2014, and it officially opened in 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The School of Health Professions recently held a dedication ceremony to celebrate the impact the playground has on our students, campus and children in our community.

a little boy with blue glasses and blonde hair

Lauren Laur’s son, Gavin, is a big fan of the inclusive playground. “He loves playing in the boat with other preschoolers and pretending the student clinicians are sharks trying to get them,” Laur said. “We went to Tiger Bounce recently for a friend’s birthday party, and I was amazed by his confidence and independence while navigating the indoor play structure there.”

A benefit to patients and students

“As a mom of a child who uses the inclusive playground, and as a professor in the School of Health Professions, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits this resource has to our community and our students,” said Lauren Laur, assistant clinical professor. “There have been significant improvements in my son’s confidence and communication skills while playing on the playground.”

In her role as a professor within the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) department, Laur observes MU students as they work with children on the playground. “The playground is an important tool for our student clinicians and is something that sets the Mizzou SLHS experience apart,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to watch the graduate students learn how to build connections between the preschoolers using the playground as their speech therapy room and the playground equipment as their therapy materials.”

The Mizzou students love it, too.

“I went into this profession because I wanted to help people,” said graduate student Molly Ross. “The inclusive playground helps our clients and is a hands-on experience most student clinicians don’t get. It’s so exciting to see my patients break through communication barriers while we’re using the playground.”

The inclusive playground is just one of many hands-on learning activities in the School of Health Professions.

“We’re so grateful to have this outdoor space as another hands-on learning tool, and to be able to use it to impact our clients,” Baker said. “As our young clients grow their communication and social skills, our student clinicians develop, too. It’s truly a win-win!”

What is an inclusive playground?

Inclusive playgrounds are designed to help children who have communication delays or disorders play outside in a safe environment. With specified equipment designed to encourage talking, children can play while also inadvertently working on their language skills.

Mizzou’s inclusive playground is open to all SHP-associated programs, including use by adult clients in the physical and occupational therapy programs. Many SHP students also use the space around the playground to take a break, study and meet with friends.


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