Boy hanging on monkey bars

Monkeying around to better writing

Have you ever wondered why your child simply cannot ignore the line dividers at the checkout? What is it about those bars that make it impossible not to swing and hang all over them?

Turns out, that PLAYing on these bars, is not only helping with the boredom of waiting, it is actually developing skills that help children write their names. These same skills also help develop balance, strong upper bodies and safe risk taking. (1)


Children develop their muscle control and coordination in a structured manner. This begins at the head, towards the toes and from their torso to their legs, arms and hands.

The body does this to ensure that their large muscles can support coordination and movement before worrying about the small and numerous muscles in the hand. (2)

By climbing, hanging and swinging on monkey bars, ropes and trees, children are building strength in their upper body and core muscles.

This is needed to develop the fine motor skills necessary to write. It also develops the flexibility and agility needed to rotate the shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers. (3)

In fact, “children who do not enjoy writing in school, often have poor upper body control and cannot support their body weight by their hands”. (4)

Natural instinct

Just like the child waiting in line, the action of swinging and climbing is a natural instinct.
If you’ve ever held a newborn, you have probably experienced the natural response known as the grasping reflex. The strength of these babies as they hold a parent’s finger or squish a ball is amazing.

In fact in some cultures, they have found that “with cultivation, four-day old babies could hold their weight for periods of time ranging from seconds to a full minute”. (5)

Where are the monkey bars?

Monkey bars and similar apparatus used to swing (and develop the crucial upper body strength) are beginning to disappear from our children’s lives. Whether it is the fear associated with the potential for injury or the blame associated with injuries, today’s children have fewer opportunities to swing and PLAY.

The problem here is that children are missing out on opportunities for a well-rounded life. According to Dr. D Craft, “When physical activities are fun, children learn to enjoy being physically active. They think of physical activity as play, but they are also practicing their fundamental movement skills and improving their physical fitness at the same time.” (6)

Safely learning to swing

Swinging is one of the seven fundamental movement skills. These skills have been identified as those that all children, youth and adults need to lead a healthy and active life.
PLAY Gymnastics BC clubs have coaches trained to teach the fundamental movement skills to children of all ages – some even before your child can walk!

“With the rate of childhood obesity on the rise and more kids interested in video games and television than outdoor play, gymnastics classes offer a number of physical and social benefits”, says Cari Oleskewicz. (7)

All coaches at PLAY Gymnastics BC clubs are certified by the Coaching Association of Canada. This certification includes training to progressively teach the proper swing techniques safely while having FUN!

Activities like hanging contests and monkey swings across bars will develop the coordination, strength, and proper techniques.

So the next time your blood pressure rises as your child PLAYs in line, remember this is actually helping with writing, painting and anything else requiring fine motor skills.

Check out your local PLAY Gymnastics BC club for more on how your child can learn while PLAYing and having fun.


Sport Manawatu: News Item: Where are the monkey bars?
Moving Smart: “M” is for Monkeybars: Getting ready for writing, Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy
Breaking Muscle: Katy Bowman and the biomechanics of human growth: the necessity of monkey business, Nicole Crawford
Demand Media: What Are the Benefits of Gymnastic Classes for Kids?, Cari Oleskewicz
Dr. Craft’s Active Play Books: The Many Benefits of Physical Activity, Diane H. Craft, PhD, Professor, Faculty of the Physical Education Department at State University of New York at Cortland

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