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5 Creative Ways to Use Monkey Bars

Play has always been an essential tool in a child’s development and is a vital key to  learning new skills. Play is also the gateway to help children connect to the world around them. Therapists help children develop skills in a fun and engaging environment. At AIM Therapy for Children, one of our newest and already well-loved pieces of therapeutic equipment is The Compact Monkey Bars by Growplay. 

Growplay frames have been produced by industrial-grade designers, who offer three different ranges of monkey bars catering to the space available, the Compact Range, the Original Range, and the X-Range. Growplay’s Monkey bars come with height-adjustable components, are rust-protected and are free-standing, ideal for both indoor and outdoor arrangements. AIM Therapy has chosen the Compact Monkey Bars as it efficiently packs a large range of movement equipment in a 3m x 2m surface area, ideal for a medium sized therapy room.

Growplay’s frames include both fixed equipment and adjustable parts, with the option of additional accessories. The Compact Monkey Bars include monkey bars, gymnastic rings, trapeze, monkey rings, rock climb, rope ladder, cargo net and a net swing. Additional accessories include ropes, ladder extensions, flying fox, cubby swings, netball ring, boxing bags, gymnastic bars, cubby houses and much much more!

 As therapists who see children with a large range of developmental needs, the different skills the Growplay equipment are used to target include (but are not limited to):

  • Hand strength 
  • Grip strength
  • Hand eye coordination
  • Bilateral coordination (the movement of both hands together which requires the integration and processing of both hemispheres of the brain).
  • Postural and core strength 
  • Upper body strength
  • Motor planning (the body’s ability to understand, plan and complete a task with refined control)
  • Sequencing
  • Proprioception (the body’s ability to determine where it is in space)
  • Problem-solving
  • Sensory modulation (the ability to respond appropriately to sensory input and remain at an appropriate level of alertness)
  • Self-regulation (the ability to maintain appropriate attention and arousal levels to engage within the environment)
  • Confidence
  • Emotional regulation

There are countless ways that AIM Therapy integrates The Compact Monkey Bars into therapy sessions to target the needs of a child, while being fun and creative at the same time! 

Here are 5 creative ways to use the Compact Monkey Bars!

  • Obstacle course
      • Kids love obstacle courses! An obstacle course at the beginning of a therapy session can support the child to feel more regulated and engaged for the duration of the session. The child can plan the order that they will go through the equipment
        • e.g. 1. Monkey bars  2.Trapeze  3. Net swing  4. Rope ladder 
      • During this task, motor planningsequencing and problem solving skills can be developed through the planning of the obstacle course. Completing the course then works on children’s hand strengthgrip strengthbilateral coordinationupper body strengthpostural strength and core strengthSensory modulation is also provided through movement and touch, which will help children feel regulated and increase their attention and concentration skills.
  • Role play and pretend play:
      • The benefits of role playing among children include improving creativity, developing strong problem solving skills, and improving their theory of mind (the ability to take on another person’s perspective). 
      • Some great role playing sequences to use with the frames include:
        • Pirates
          1. The children pretend they are on a pirate ship. They can climb up the nets to fix the sails, climb the mast to the crow’s nest (up the rope ladder onto the monkey bars) to look out for enemies or islands. Use the swinging bars to move from one ship to another, and use pillows, blankets or stepping stones to make enemies walk the plank! 
          2. Create a treasure hunt, with pieces of treasure hidden at different points around the island. Build a treasure map with the different steps children must do to access the treasure (ie. traverse on the side of the cliff – climbing sideways across the rope net; swing across the crocodile infested river to the other bank – monkey bars across). 
        • Jungle
          1. Pretend to be different animals that have to make it across the jungle. The children can be animals that fly using a blanket as wings, and then fly around the “jungle” without bumping into the blankets.
          2. Swing from tree to tree across the bars, like a monkey. Hang onto the bars with hands or legs to improve hand grip and postural strength.
          3. Crawl on hands and knees through the jungle like a tiger. Army crawls on their belly like a crocodile. 
        • Re-enacting kids books is also a great way to encourage role play and pretend play!
      • Through different movement sequences, children are able to develop their gross motor skills including bilateral coordination, hand strength, hand-eye coordination and strength, as well as develop their body awareness skills while learning how to use their bodies effectively to manoeuvre on and around the different equipment.
  • The floor is Lava
      • A classic kids game, where the game can progress like a game of TAG, except nobody can touch the ground, or 
      • Players can roam around freely until a leader/adult calls out “the floor is lava,” to which everyone must respond by finding a spot to perch themselves on without touching the ground! The challenge is, players cannot use the same spot twice!
      • Mix the game with some music to play a new rendition of Musical Statues. When the music stops, everyone must move to get their feet off the ground!
      • This game is great to build body awareness, spatial awareness and gross motor skills. Children also develop their working memory to make sure they remember the rules of the game during play, but also remembering the last place they stood to make sure they don’t go to the same place again the following round!
  • Scavenger hunts
      • With a bit of blutac, sticky tape, pencils and some paper, there are endless possibilities on how to use a scavenger hunt to work on children’s goals! Some ideas include:
        • Letter hunt: Provide the children a word they have to spell out by looking for the letters they need, which are hidden around the play equipment. 
          1. If you want to help a child develop better body awareness, keep the letters at eye height but hidden in places where they may need to step over, go under or move around parts of the equipment to access the letters. For a challenge, hide the letters further up, for example in the middle of the monkey bars, or at the top of the rope net. Once they have collected the letters, organise the letters to spell the word, and then on a piece of lined paper, copy down the word. Extra challenge: collect random letters and then try to write words using those letters
          2. If the focus of the activity is to improve letter formation and handwriting, keep the letters easy to find, but provide longer words to spell out. Expand out the activity by having the child collect words to build sentences.
        • Bingo: Bingo is a great game to work on visual perception skills, and can be themed (ie. Easter, Christmas, birthday, pirates, dinosaurs). Each child receives their picture cards that they need to colour in or mark with an ‘X’ as they locate the pictures matching the boxes on their card. First person to mark all their boxes (or get 3/4/5 in a row, depending on how easy you want the game to be) wins!
  • Decathlon
    • Setting and breaking records are a classic pastime for kids. Create a 10-set challenge using different elements of the climbing frame. The challenges can be focused on speed, time or repetitions. For example:
      • Longest hold on monkey bars
      • Quickest to climb up and down the rope nets 10 times
      • Most monkey bars swung across in 1 minute
      • Quickest to run a lap around the climbing frame
      • Longest launch from the trapeze
      • Quickest to throw 6 bean bags into a bucket while swinging on the platform swing
      • Complete one chin-up
      • Quickest to make a circuit around the frame without touching the ground
      • Most amount of reps climbing up and down the ladder in 2 minutes
      • Longest incline plank held (instead of planking with elbows on the floor, have arms straight and hands resting on a step/low bar on the frame)

As you can see, there are an infinite number of ways a climbing frame can be used, and any of these activities can be modified based on the equipment and frame available to each family! These activities work great on Growplay’s frames, but can also be done at playgrounds, parks or even at home using everyday furniture.

Explore, trial and don’t be afraid to take your child’s lead in play. You may be surprised by their creativity! Use their ideas as stepping stones, developing their skills by expanding out their actions into longer/bigger movements and challenge them further. Pitch different ideas and see what your children chooses to do – much to nobody’s surprise, children tend to be more responsive when they feel the game is their idea!

Good luck and, more importantly, have fun!

Author: Senior Occupational Therapist, AIM Therapy for Children