Adaptive climbing walls help children of all abilities improve physical fitness and feel successful.
An Everlast Climbing Adaptive Climbing Wall was installed at Lincoln Elementary School in Pryor, Okla. to enable students in the special education program to conquer the climbing wall right alongside their typically developing classmates.
“We felt we needed to do it for our students in special education so they could feel that they could do things all the other children do,” says Laura Holloway, physical education teacher and director of health and wellness for the Pryor School District. “When they see themselves going across it, in their minds, they are just as equal as everyone else.”
“Seeing those students do an activity they might not normally get to partake in is really great,” she adds. “The children feel that success and tell their teacher they did it with smiles on their faces. They want to do it again and again.”
The Adaptive Climbing Wall features grab-bar style hand holds and ledge-style foot holds to provide stability and extra support for children with physical disabilities. The wall also features other color-coded Groperz hand holds designed just for children that offer additional variety and levels of challenge. Green climbing holds are the largest and easiest to grab. The yellow holds are a little harder and the red holds are the smallest and most challenging. The climbing wall also has a dry-erase surface that can be written on and accepts magnets to provide learning opportunities for children with cognitive or communicative disabilities.
“Our Adaptive Climbing Wall is perfect for adapted or inclusive physical education, occupational therapy and physical therapy because it provides opportunities to simultaneously develop muscle strength, balance, body awareness, motor planning and more,” said Mertyce Mrvos, Coordinator of Programs & Partnerships for Everlast Climbing. “And it’s also really fun, so children want to do it. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
At Lincoln Elementary School, students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade use the Adaptive Climbing Wall during physical education classes, working on improving balance and decision-making and building upper body strength and self-esteem.
“There’s a lot more to it than climbing,” says Holloway. “It’s as much a brain challenge as it is anything else. You have to process things as you are going across, like which rocks would be better to grab. You can also have your students do math, or make sentences, as they’re climbing across.”
One of the school’s goals is to use the wall, which was purchased through a federal Carol M. White Physical Education Program grant, for an after-school climbing club.
“I think it reaches kids that don’t always find their place,” she says. “Maybe they’re not your sports kid, or your band kid. A child who is not connected to anything else can feel success in doing this.”
The Adaptive Climbing Wall at The Pediatric Place in Libertyville, Ill., adds an element of fun for children receiving physical, occupational and speech therapy, according to Myla Teemer, PT, clinic director.
“It’s something different. It does not look like exercise,” Teemer says.
The Pediatric Place serves children with neurologic and orthopedic conditions, sensory disorders and fine motor deficits, speech and language disorders, and feeding disorders. Many have coordination deficits and muscle weakness.
Teemer added that the size of the wall make it less intimidating for children at the clinic, most of whom are 6 years old and younger. The wall measures 8 feet by 8 feet.
“We have a few kids that are either weak, have low tone, or have postural insecurities that meant in the beginning it was a whole clinic production for them to climb the wall. We had to call the parents and or another therapist for added reassurance,” she notes. “So we asked the kids to just do the first level of rocks and start from there. It seems like when they complete that first level, they gain confidence and are more willing to complete to the top.”
For added incentive, therapists often put toys or other treats on the top climbing holds for children to retrieve.
“They have big smiles on their faces, especially when they reach the top,” Teemer says. “Parents almost always take pictures or video of the kids while climbing or when they reach the top.”