7 Elements of Play: Climbing

September 02, 2016

Climbing is the next in our 7 elements of play series.

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Why do children climb?

  • elements of play climbing merge climberExcitement
  • Feeling of accomplishment
  • Experience basic physics – gravity, inertia, pendulums
  • Overcome physical challenges
  • Test abilities, show off and compete
  • Engage in pretend games
  • Retrieve objects
  • Stimulate kinesthetic perceptions
  • Increase vestibular sensations

How does climbing help children in the classroom?

  • Increases muscle tone and strength enabling children to tackle gross and small motor activities.

Ever hear the term marshmallow kid? This refers to those children who are slouchers. They have little muscle tone in their arms, legs and core. Climbing helps strengthen these muscles and increase endurance.

Poor muscle tone and poor small motor skills can mean a child can’t hold writing utensils when in class.

  • Enhances perceptual motor skills relating to whole body awareness, spatial awareness and directional awareness. In the classroom, this helps children better follow directions and know where things go on their paper.

I see lots of kids struggle with spatial, body and directional awareness. In preschool, we often model a project at circle time, such as putting body parts on people and animals. The children need to know the nose goes below the eyes and the mouth goes below the nose, etc. Children with poor spatial awareness may put the eyes somewhere on the page, just not on the face or anywhere near it.”

  • elements of play climbing _verto climberSharpens visual perception skills, for instance, that ability to see where the next foot and hand holds are in order to climb.

Children with poor visual perception often have problems with sorting, colors, shapes, building with blocks, memory games and matching games.

One child in my classroom had both poor spatial awareness and visual perception skills. Crossing the midline was very difficult for him. One activity we did was to create a snowman using small, medium and large circles. He did okay putting the snowman’s body together, but when we gave the children sequins, buttons, and more to decorate them, he only put things on the left of the snowman. (He was left-handed therefore only using the items to the left of him to decorate the snowman.) The eyes were on top of each other, there were two arms on the left side and none on the right. We had him do all kinds of climbing activities, such as climbing ropes and ladders on the playground, which helped him with these issues.”

  • Helps develop the vestibular system, which takes in information, sends it to the brain and then gives the signal to their balance and equilibrium. Children who have an underdeveloped vestibular system may not have a sense of balance or don’t feel grounded. Often, their equilibrium is off and an activity such as climbing can help.

You might see these children circling the playground because they don’t like to climb; however, climbing is a good activity for them.

The vestibular system serves many purposes: influences the development of muscle tone, determines your ability to balance, helps us coordinate both sides of our body together and allows us to coordinate our eye movements with our head.

  • Develops coordinated eye movements with the head. In the classroom, this helps kids when copying from a blackboard and reading across a page.
  • Being able to cross the midline or do activities where they need reach across the body. This helps a child establish hand dominance and do daily activities such as cutting with scissors.
  • Develops motor fitness skills such as agility, speed, coordination and balance.

Climbing develops both gross and fine motor skills in children. Fine motor skills are found in the hands and fingers and are important for handwriting and anything that involves small movements with the fingers to manipulate objects.

Cognitive requirements of climbing

  • Memory
  • Problem solving
  • Image/visualization

Climbing ActivitiesAs children climb, they need to make decisions, solve problems and even visualize the solution; for instance, “how do I get to the top?” “Where do I put my hand or foot?”

Climbing requires focus, concentration and perseverance. They gain confidence, learn how to cope with fear and stress, and develop self-reliance.

7 Elements of Play on the Playground

Learn more about how the seven elements of play on the playground affects a child’s growth and ability to function in the classroom.

Play Learn Grow TogetherWant to learn more? I give an educational presentation about the importance of playground activities, how these different elements of play contribute to a child’s success in the classroom.

Play, Learn and Grow with Us!
Jami Murdock Jami Murdock

Jami has been an early childhood educator for 25 years. She operated an “in home” daycare center for 13 years and has been teaching preschool for the past 12 years. She has experience working with children on the autism spectrum and sensory processing dysfunction. Jami presents on “How Important are Playground Activities to a Child’s Success in the Classroom.” Her passion is her family and her work with children.

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