It seems like every kid loves to climb! I love watching kids try a rock wall for the first time: I am always so impressed with their determination and resiliency. They love the challenge, they’ll keep at it even if they don’t make it on the first try and they take great pride in finally making it to the top. A good climbing feature not only builds strong muscles and coordination; it also teaches perseverance and boosts self-esteem.
Parents of young children are often hesitant to add challenging climbing features. But remember, kids grow up fast and things they are afraid of now, they’ll want to conquer later. I have found that kids who are a bit awkward with physical activity really blossom when they have a climbing tower in their own backyard that they can experiment with at their own pace. And parents of girls shouldn’t underestimate how much interest girls have in climbing.
Hand over Hand Bars
Hand-over-Hand Bars , or Monkey Bars, should be a standard feature for every play structure - kids love them! Our free-standing Hand-Over-Hand Bars offer quite the challenge: climb the wooden footholds and try to complete the full circuit of bars. The first 8’ run is at an angle, then at the “T” there’s a drop and a turn: it takes kids quite a while to master these bars. One mother told me it had become a rite of passage in their neighborhood to complete the full run of monkey bars! Note also the two Turning Bars also in the photo: kids love to do “skin the cat” on the low bar and chin-ups on the high bar.
Rope Net Climb
One of the easiest climbing features for young kids is the Rope Net Climb. And yet older kids like it too because it brings a bit of a pirate’s ship feel to the play structure. It is one of the easier ways up for kids, but not so easy for adults because of our big feet!
Young kids get a real confidence boost climbing up the rope net. Because of the comfortable angle, they can pause while climbing and advance only as fast as they feel comfortable with. We hand-weave the rope nets to the redwood frames in our workshop to ensure that they are safe and secure.
Then there is the option of an Staircase with railings which requires even more space but provides the easiest of access to the upper levels. If you want the grandparents to be able to hang out up in the play structure, and if you have the room, then you should consider adding a staircase to the second level. I like to put the staircase entrance on the backside of the fort, so that kids first approaching the play structure are encouraged to try the more challenging ways up first.
Rock Climbing has to be the most popular of all the climbing features. We use real professional grade rock holds and we mount them in the easiest, or “positive” position. As the kids get older, you can reposition the rock hold to a more difficult position to increase the challenge. I often place the rock climbing in conjunction with the firepole: that way kids can try climbing one or two rock holds, then try a bit of sliding down the firepole as a way of practicing. Rock climbing can be on just one wall or, my favorite is to cover an entire fort in rock climbing. That way kids can practice “bouldering” which is climbing side to side. Bouldering is actually more difficult to do than climbing up and over the wall.
Crazy Bar Climb
The Crazy Bar Climb is just a little more challenging than the regular metal climbing bars at the park. I like to fit a Crazy Bar Climb in whenever possible. And kids like that: it’s different! We make the metal bars in our metal shop and have them professionally powder-coated. It’s fun to add some metal parts to the mostly wooden structures: the bars have a smooth feel and are super-strong.
An important safety note: climbing features are the places where kids are most likely to fall, sobe sure to have plenty of resilient surfacing material, i.e., bark chip, around any climbing feature. Parents should expect kids to fall: it shows they are trying to improve their skills and challenging themselves. But parents need to make sure when kids do fall, that’s there’s plenty of resilient surfacing material around so no one gets hurt.
A Tiger Cage is a small tower covered with crazy bars and there’s a crazy bar door on one side. That’s where you put the tiger in! Generally kids love taking turns being the tiger. There’s no latch on the door and kids can climb out between the bars, so no one gets left in the tiger cage. But you should hear the kids roar!
Knotted Rope Climb
Another rope feature is the Knotted Rope Climb. It’s a challenging way up for older kids. The rope is attached to the ground at the bottom. Kids climb up the rope and through the gate to get to the second level. The gate has lightly spring-loaded hinges on it, so it’s always easy to open and stays closed when not in use so there’s no danger of a young child accidentally falling out the opening. For the older kids, the challenge is to try climbing it without using your legs!
Monkey Bars Under the Bridge
Monkey Bars Under the Bridge are a great way to include monkey bars in a tight space. Kids can take down the swings – or not! I’ve also added rings and monkey bars to the underside of big decks.
Ladders are a great quick way to get up to the clubhouse. The Pueblo Ladder is simple, handsome and efficient. It’s safe and fun for little kids as well as parents and it only takes up 3 feet of space. For many yards, the amount of space a ladder takes up is critical: you want an easy way up but not at the expense of other fun features. The Rung Ladder is exciting for young kids: the rungs are the right diameter for their small hands and it allows them to climb safely to the top.
The Ship’s Ladder goes one step further in providing easy and safe access to the upper levels: it has big steps and a railing, often with a gate at the top. It takes up 5 feet of space in the play area.
The Table-Gate is a straight-up, rung ladder to the inside of a playhouse, that has a table over the top of it. The table’s there to keep anyone from accidentally falling through the opening in the floor. The kids climb under the table to get to the ladder. We put a small gate at the opening, too. It helps slow the kids down when going up and down the ladder and that keeps everything a lot safer, yet still fun.
Carved Climbing Poles
The Carved Climbing Poles are beautiful to look at and fun to climb! They also can support your play structure as well. First I chalk on the design on the 6x6 redwood posts, making sure the notches will be a fun, spiraling climb up. Then I cut the notches in with a sculpture's adz. I use a grinder to carve the additional designs and to make the wood splinter-free as well.