Go Ape on the Monkey Bars

Bethany Sanders
June 14, 2013

The monkey bars tease little ones from above from an early age. Kids aren't content to keep their feet on the ground; they want to reach higher and higher, and those elusive monkey bars give them a goal to stretch toward. "Lift me up, Daddy!" she'll say as soon as she spots them. And as with all things parenting, we do. We lift them up and carry them along, until they're old enough to do it on their own.

It's important to remember that kids should never be put into a position where they're forced to deal with a physical challenge they aren't ready for. We don't carry our kids, for instance, to the top of the tallest slide. We wait until they are old enough to climb up there themselves so that we know they are ready. Keep this idea in mind when teaching kids how to use any kind of playground equipment.

That said, few adventurous kid are going to wait until they are five or six to want to try out the monkey bars. Here's how you can get them started:

1. Install a trapeze swing onto their swing set. A trapeze bar provides youngsters with the exercises necessary to build upper arm and abdominal strength, power they'll need to swing across those bars. Lowering it to a safe height, however, will give them a safe place to practice their moves without danger of falling.

2. Look for playgrounds with low monkey bars. Often you can find a set of monkey bars low enough to bonk your own head on, or better yet, low enough that your child can reach them from the ground. These are a great place for early monkey bar experiences. 

3. Practice hanging from every bar you can find. Fitness trails in your local park are a great place to find low hanging bars for kids to grasp and swing on, or consider taking her to a local gymnastic center geared toward little ones.

4. Encourage lots of climbing on different kinds of ladders—rope, chain, etc. This will teach your child about grasp and balance while building strength, all important playground skills.

5. When the time comes, give her a boost and let her just hang from the bar. Show her how to swing her body back and forth, then teach her how to let go and fall properly to the wood chips below (with your help, depending on her age.)

6. When she's ready, tell her to reach out for that second bar. I've always felt like it's better to wait until she can carry most of her own weight with her hands, while I gently spot her from below, but there's no real right or wrong way. Want to carry her completely while she goes from beginning to end? Your choice.  

7. Once kids get big enough to reach the monkey bars on their own, your job is to stand back and watch them go. Your job is done!


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