Each Friday, Madonna’s pediatric unit looks a little different. One week, it could be decorated with Star Wars characters; the next, ice cream cones, or even slime! Invitations are passed out, new decorations are hung and a playlist is selected. These weekly parties not only offer a little Friday fun, but they’re also therapeutic.
“We started doing the pediatric parties around Easter,” Rachel Stonacek, MS, CCC-SLP, a Madonna speech therapist, said. “We had a kiddo that LOVED Easter and so we planned a party based on her ideas. When I came back to work that following Monday, the kids were still talking about it and had so much fun. It made us therapists think that we should start doing them routinely since it had such a big impact.”
So far, Madonna’s pediatric patients have planned everything from a princess party to a water fun day party, to dance parties and sports day parties, among others. Incorporating a child’s favorite hobbies and interests into the theme keeps them engaged and encourages them to get creative.
From there, Madonna’s therapists have found ways to use party planning as a way to practice both physical and cognitive skills a child may be working on during their daily therapy sessions. For example, a child who is working on thought organization and language can pick the theme and brainstorm snacks, music and activities based on that theme. Another child creates the invitations—a chance to improve spelling, typing, navigating the internet and answering main idea questions. Finally, if a child is working on speech intelligibility and social skills, they’re in charge of handing out invitations to other patients and staff. However, the therapeutic value also continues throughout the party itself.
“During the parties, the activities usually incorporate a variety of therapy tasks, including fine motor, gross motor, communication, and eating skills within a more stimulating environment than their usual therapy sessions,” Stonacek said. “We have music playing, several people in the dining area socializing and several activities going on. It’s a way for us to gauge how some of our patients may respond and how to support them in a more natural, busy environment before they go home.”
For 5-year-old Kai Maloney, planning a Mario Brothers-themed party was a chance to share something he loves with his new friends. In a speech session, Kai brainstormed snack and activity ideas to include in the party and gave his input on which characters to include on the invitation. During the party, he practiced his balance and stamina while he showed off his Mario stuffed animals and hunted for Yoshi’s eggs. Dressed as Luigi, Kai was also responsible for ensuring everyone who attended the party donned a proper mustache of their own.
“It is so much fun to see the patient’s confidence boost when they feel in charge of party planning and they get to lead activities during the party,” Stonacek said. “I love these parties because it sparks a sense of fun on the unit for the patients and the staff. It’s a time to celebrate the great work the kids have done throughout the week, participating in hours of daily intensive therapy, and ending with a fun, child-led, therapeutic party.”