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Joseph B. Tipton, Jr., Ph.D.

Home > Involvement > Therapeutic Playground Project

Therapeutic Playground Project


Little Hands, Big Hearts (LHBH) is a Christian ministry located in Trujillo, Honduras that primarily serves “special needs” children in an impoverished community. The Republic of Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America (after Haiti). The city of Trujillo is located on the Caribbean coast and remote from the major cities of the country.

LHBH is “dedicated to empowering the indigenous church and sharing the Good News of Jesus with needy children and their families in Honduras.” Specific ministries include a developmental preschool, women’s sewing program, neighborhood children’s Bible hour, health and nutrition outreach, home improvement program, young people’s character-building program, and educational programs with the local churches and schools in the Trujillo area. Short-term visiting mission teams supplement the work and activities of the mission carried out by the Honduran-trained staff of LHBH.

To learn more, the ministry operates a website ( and has also published a short, introductory video (

Although it is not connected to this project, a website called "Kids Around the World" has a wonderful page titled "Why Kids?".  Read this for a wonderful synopsis on the power of childhood play in changing little lives!

Developmental Preschool

Image Courtesy of Katie Wilson, DPT

The LHBH Developmental Preschool is the centerpiece of the ministry. This preschool is overseen by a director and three specially-trained teacher/therapists. They presently serve 14 children with disabilities and special needs. These disabilities include cerebral palsy, spina bifada, and hydrocephalus. Ages range from 6 months to 15 years. The teachers prepare and chart progress on an “Individual Educational Plan” (IEP) for each child to maximize their physical, social, and mental development.

The precious children served by the LHBH preschool.

Physical/Occupational Therapy Introduced

LHBH Board Member Katie Wilson, DPT works with a LHBH child.

A group of North American physical and occupational therapists visited LHBH three years ago. A group has returned to work with the teachers and children each year since. They have urged the ministry to initiate physical therapy at an earlier age during infancy rather than wait for the traditional age at which a child enters preschool. LHBH began this effort in 2013 and it has proven most beneficial to those children who started during infancy.

Therapeutic Playground Project

One of the most urgent needs for the LHBH ministry is for the children to continue the muscular and physical development using outdoor play therapy. They have developed a series of activities that are conducted indoors, but find that these need to be complemented by gross motor development activities outside. Whether the child uses a walker, is wheelchair bound, or has other physical disabilities, LHBH wishes to provide play therapy in a park playground on the grounds of the Little Hands, Big Hearts mission.

The Peugeot Center for Engineering Service in Developing Communities at Lipscomb University is currently partnering with LHBH and KDF Architecture to plan, prepare, and construct a therapeutic playground park specifically for disabled and special needs children at LHBH.

Vision Statement

To design and construct a safe outdoor area that allows and encourages the children of LHBH to engage in therapeutic play.

Phase I:  Research

An Assessment and Research Team (ART) met in Honduras during June 28-July 3, 2016. They accomplished the following:

  • Visited one of the only special education centers in the country with a playground.
  • Visited the homes of a few children with special needs to understand their situation and how LHBH works with the children and their families.
  • Toured the LHBH property.
  • Inspected the potential playground sites and selected the best site.
  • Determined what play activities are needed to best fulfill the needs of the educational and therapy staff.

Images from the ART trip including the selected playground site can be found at <>.

Members of the 2016 Assessment and Research Team in front of the selected playground site.

Members of ART compiled a list of LHBH children that included physical activities deemed beneficial for their physical development. That list revealed 5 basic activities that would enable every child to experience at least 3 play options on the playground:

  • Touch Sensory: Touch is an important sensory experience for the visually impaired. The cause and effect experience is also important for children with mental disabilities. "Deep pressure" is an important sensory effect for children with autism.
  • Swinging: An important vestibular/balance activity.
  • Biking: An ability to move around on an adaptive tricycle.
  • Spinning: Another valuable vestibular/balance activity.
  • Music Sensory

The team also felt the following areas are important to include in the playground:

  • Tunnels: This can serve as an area for overstimulated children to "escape" and rest before re-engaging.
  • Balance: Balance play activities are also very important for the vestibular system and require children to develop motor skills as they consider where to place their feet. Examples include a balance beam or "lily pads"
  • "Loose pieces": This is a newer concept in playground design. Not everything needs to be permanently fixed to the ground, and children can learn a lot of tactile and spatial skills by moving and manipulating objects.
Phase II: Preparation

Conceptual Design

Rod Knipper, is a partner at KDF Architecture and is the design lead for the project.  In November 2016, he created a concept of the playground as shown below.

Preliminary Analysis

During the 2016-2017 academic year, a senior design team at Lipscomb University began preliminary designs for some of the play equipment, the bridge, and the treehouse.

Site Survey

During Spring Break 2017, a team from Lipscomb engineering missions traveled to Trujillo.  They completed a professional-quality engineering survey of the playground site and cleaned the area of debris and leaves.

Site Preparation

In May 2017, another team from Lipscomb engineering missions traveled to Trujillo.  They oversaw operations to level and prepare the playground site for construction.  This included:

  • pruning and/or removal of specific trees,
  • purchase and delivery of fill dirt to level the ravine, and
  • construction of key retaining walls and stairs to allow access while preventing erosion.

Click on the images below to see more!


Therapeutic Equipment Design

During the Fall semester of 2017, Dr. Joseph Tipton will be teaching ENGR-1113-04L "Introduction to Engineering".  The focus of the laboratory will be to design appropriate playground equipment using the Engineering4Change "Human Centered Design" methodology. His freshmen mechanical engineering students will be designing actual equipment - about as "real world" as you can get!

Phase III:  Construction

The construction and installation of the playground will occur in 2018!  Lipscomb University is specifically in charge of the therapeutic playground equipment.  A trip is in the planning stages with an anticipated travel date of Monday, May 7 to Tuesday, May 15.  Please contact Dr. Joseph Tipton if you are interested in participating!

Opportunities for Students Outside Engineering

The current Therapeutic Playground Project is focused on Engineering Missions through the Peugeot Center at Lipscomb. The long term vision is for LHBH to be a mission location for Lipscomb students in general. The mission of LHBH offers unique opportunities for students in

  • Nutrition/Dietetics,
  • Exercise Science/Kinesiology,
  • Nursing,
  • Special Education,
  • Social Work,
  • Media,
  • and more!

Students and faculty from disciplines outside of engineering are encouraged to visit LHBH with the May 2018 engineering mission trip, volunteer with the ministry in their area of interest, and help inspire their academic programs for future projects!

RIP Prof. Gerhart & Prof. Taylor

"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

The year 2017 has seen the passing of two great mentors.  Phil Gerhart was my Dean at the University of Evansville.  Larry Taylor was Director of the Planetary Geosciences Institute at the University of Tennessee.  Both were wonderful mentors at different points in my life and are greatly missed.

New Article Published

Tipton Jr, J. B., Lumsdaine, A., Schaich, C., & Hanson, G. R. (2017). Design and Analysis of 140-Degree Miter Bend for High Power Electron Cyclotron Heating Transmission Lines. Fusion Science and Technology, 1-7.

A journal article was recently published from work that I presented at the 22nd Topical Meeting on the Technology of Fusion Energy (TOFE).  You can view the article here.

Therapeutic Playground Project in Trujillo, Honduras

I'm a proud part of a 3 year project to build a therapeutic playground for children with disabilities in Trujillo, Honduras.  Read more HERE to learn how Lipscomb engineering is working with the Little Hands, Big Hearts ministry!