Ranken Jordan Opens Magical Outdoor Therapeutic Playground

Spending time outside in nature offers proven health benefits for the mind and body.

Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital has taken that concept to magical heights by creating a new Activity Canyon right in its own backyard complete with hobbit holes, animal tracks, log steppers, a wheelchair accessible merry-go-round, bongo drums, whispering trees, a tea pot garden and more. These whimsical features inspire curiosity and exploration to motivate children during therapy and play.

Ranken Jordan cares for children with the most complex medical conditions and more than 60% of the children are connected to a ventilator. The new nature-focused play area allows kids to be kids because it can be used by all children, whether they are on a ventilator, or are in a wheelchair, laying on a bed, or using a walker or crutches.

Activity Canyon opens the door to nature’s toolbox as therapists work with children in playful ways outside to improve function and develop skills and strength. Families and team members have full access to the area, too.

Expanding Nature’s Toolbox

McCarthy Building Companies built Ranken Jordan’s latest facility addition in 2018. The expansion included an outdoor space with an accessible turf ball field and a six-hole putting green as part of Phase I. McCarthy also built the hospital’s newly opened outdoor nurses station, the first in the world associated with a hospital. It seamlessly connects Phase I to Phase II of Activity Canyon that was revealed May 25.

Sheltered under a butterfly-shaped canopy, the fully equipped central nurses station includes multiple electrical outlets to plug-on or recharge essential equipment to keep children safe when they are away from their rooms. It also includes a ceiling fan, an infrared heater, an outdoor sink and a refrigerator so kids can get drinks, take medications or receive treatments without disrupting their outdoor play time.

Partnering with McCarthy, SWT Design, a St. Louis-based landscape architecture firm, planned and designed the new Activity Canyon in close collaboration with Ranken Jordan’s therapists and other team members as part of the hospital’s Care Beyond the Bedside model that get kids out of their rooms every day for a better recovery.

Discovering New Abilities

Children can follow pathways through Activity Canyon that lead to various “therapy zones” with inclusive play equipment, a sound room, sensory gardens, nature wonders, and more.

Along the paths, children discover hidden treasures such as stamped animal tracks and leaves native to Missouri, a roller slide, tunnels that accommodate wheelchairs, and a talk tube where children learn cause and effect.

This hillside area overlooks a basketball hoop, a merry-go-round for all abilities, and various sizes of swings. Dotting the landscape are limestone boulders and log steppers in varied heights to challenge children’s stepping abilities.

Another popular area in Activity Canyon is the sound room of oversized percussion instruments. Children and adults can’t resist pounding the bongo drums and striking the colorful xylophone and hanging chimes with a mallet to create their own outdoor concert.

Nestled in a quieter shaded area are tables designed for horticulture therapy, art or other activities. Nearby, large orange saucer planters are spaced to allow children to garden from all sides of the saucers, whether children are in a wheelchair or a bed or are using a walker or crutches. Those cheery saucers will become pizza, salsa and teapot gardens with the help of therapists and the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

For the past 10 years, the Missouri Botanical Garden has partnered with Ranken Jordan to provide year-round weekly horticultural therapy for children. Their involvement will expand even further with multiple garden areas available within the new space.

The Activity Canyon gardens and roses around the hospital are a special nod to Ranken Jordan’s founder, Mary Ranken Jordan, who believed in the value of gardening and outdoor activities to heal children. In 2021, Ranken Jordan is celebrating its 80th anniversary of the “MRJ Way.”

Stimulating the Senses

Throughout Activity Canyon, a wide variety of native and ornamental flowers, bushes and trees attract important pollinators and birds. All are carefully chosen to stimulate the senses and provide beauty and wonder.

In one area that Dr. Suess himself may have created, a Contorted Filbert tree branches twist and turn into whimsical corkscrews. Even the leaves curl. Nearby is a weeping Norway Spruce that looks like it fell right off the Grinch’s runaway sled.

At the edge of the play area, the wind rustles the leaves of an Aspen tree grove to create the soothing sounds of a gentle summer rain.

Then there are the show-offs, like the tricolor beech that some call the pink lemonade tree because of its striking two-color leaves. Their blooming sidekicks in the diverse landscape include American Yellowwoods with hanging strands of pea-like flowers and flowering cherry trees adorned with soft puffs of pink and white.

Yet all live in perfect harmony in this wondrous garden and play area at Ranken Jordan set to the happy sound track of birds singing and children laughing.

Generosity Inspires Progress and Gratitude

The newly expanded Activity Canyon at Ranken Jordan is possible thanks to the generosity of Margaret and Richard Riney Family Foundation.

“The impact of the Riney family’s generous, heartfelt gift will be felt for years to come as children enjoy the healing benefits of nature and play in Activity Canyon,” says Brett Moorehouse, president and CEO of Ranken Jordan. “We’re forever grateful to the Riney family for inspiring children at Ranken Jordan to make more progress every day and to just have fun.”