If you’ve got a little monkey jumping on beds and climbing on chairs, it’s time to start planning regular trips to the playground. Climbing is an important skill that helps children develop balance. You can create small, safe play areas indoors for really young toddlers, but preschoolers will thrive in an outdoor area with bigger equipment on which to test their blooming balance skills — while eagle-eyed Mama supervises, of course. From tot-size stairs and slides to lattices and ladders, playground climbing equipment will challenge and thrill your preschooler.
Slides are an important climbing tool. They build confidence in beginners who can clamber up the bulky steps at breakneck little-kid speeds. The quick gratification of the downward pull helps to keep them going again and again. Many slides have alternate routes to get to them. Your child will be faced with choices. The steps or the simple three-rung ladder? Soon he’ll try the ladder. When you’re alone on the playground and your kids have a good sense of their own balance, you can allow them to climb up the slide. The slippery surface with force them to use their hands and change their center of gravity and speed to make it up. Don’t attempt this when others are trying to use the slide, though. You’ll be on the wrong end of a child collision.
Ladders come in many forms on a child’s playground. The simplest leads straight up to a ledge, possibly on a slight angle to make it even easier. As your child gains a better sense of her physical self, she’ll be able to move on to the curved ladders, where they start out as pull-and-climb equipment and bend in a fluid movement so that by the time your child reaches the top, she will be standing vertically, with the ladder rungs perpendicular to her feet. Clambering up lattices help your kid find her best option while on the move. She’ll have to think and push forward at the same time — something she’s been forcing you to do since she was born. She must choose rungs at various heights and distances from her, and as she pulls up, she has to find comfortable footing. Sometimes a bar is in the way, as lattices are not straight vertical climbing tools. This builds confidence and quickness, both in movement and decision-making.
Rock walls are a level up from ladders. The hand and foot holds are smaller and unevenly patterned. The child must have good dexterity in her limbs and hands and be confident that she will not fall. Stay with your child as she tries this, even if the wall is short and slanted. If she falls, she may end up with a fear of heights, but if you’re right there the first time, she won’t be as scared. Instead of climbing hand over hand and foot over foot, your child has to reach out and grab at knobs to keep from slipping down the wall. She has to calculate her next move before mindlessly pushing ahead. As she improves, she can pretend she’s a real mountain-climber, out on missions in the wild!
Not all climbing has to be from the ground up. The monkey bars are a great way for preschoolers to test their strength, agility and bravery. (Be warned — your child will probably fall a few times.) The monkey bars can be used from a very young age so long as parents are right there to hold and catch their kids as they try to swing from rung to rung. As your child gets older, allow her to try them herself. Maybe make a primate noise or two of encouragement. Most bars are not really high off the ground, so falling will not result in injury. Unlike the other equipment, using the monkey bars teaches children about motion, momentum and strength. As your kid progresses, she can experiment on the equipment by swinging her legs up and pretending to be a gymnast. The bars improve movement, confidence and decision-making. They indicate a comfort with her own body.