A body in motion tends to stay in motion, but how does the motion begin? One of the biggest challenges today for parents and play space planners alike is the need to get kids moving again. A growing number of studies highlight the need for children to have at least 1 hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity each day for a healthy lifestyle, but today’s child is more surrounded than ever with activities which could be characterized as sedentary. This means that playgrounds and play spaces need extra emphasis on design elements which encourage children to move–and the more they move, the better.
Historically, the majority of commercial playground equipment options have featured static, solid structures with linear play characteristics. While swings and slides are likely the most commonly chosen play elements and intrinsically include movement in play, they are typically accompanied by steel or wooden structures of various types that have flow-through play designs where children follow a particular path up, over, and down again. This may cause milder interest for the children using them, since the sensation and experience becomes predictable.
Children are most often attracted to something different or puzzling, something with action and movement, and definitely something that already has a crowd of happy kids having fun on it. New playground options today offer different elements that can enhance the experience for users of all ages… and ultimately restore the playground’s status to ‘the place to be all day long’, as it was for former generations.
One of these options is the net climber. Also known as ‘pyramid net’ or ‘matrix net’, this form of playground equipment has been growing in popularity and use for many years now. Net climbers offer a play platform that is not static, but has constant flex and movement within it. The structure itself encourages children to continue moving as they enter the structure. They share the experience of other climbers around them transmitted throughout the cables of the netting. Children are therefore forced to stay in motion seeing that they constantly have to stabilize themselves as a result of other users’ movements.
These environments also provide a nearly unlimited array of movement possibilities. Rather than a linear play format, the users are always presented with a large and growing number of choices about which direction they will travel next. This gives an ever-changing experience that may be impossible to repeat, let alone ever become predictable. Sensations are also enhanced, with the nets sending new vibrations to the children beyond what they create with their own actions. This sensory feedback can multiply the users’ enjoyment, making them much more likely to desire longer periods of more active play.
As exciting as those are, a new range of net climbers are just now being created, which brings the matrix net experience to a whole new level. Sometimes known as ‘ropes courses’, new custom creations of free-form, multi-plane net climbers seem to have endless possibilities. With nets that twist, turn, rise, and fall in complex connected paths, a child climbing through these structures is subjected to a play experience that is continually evolving.
As the angle and shape of netting changes, the child encounters different sensations while alternating muscle groups are activated. Each motion leads to more movement so that the child can’t predict what comes next. Children using such ropes courses have commented that the climbing experience was so much work, but so worth it, that they were motivated to do more and more.
It is certainly harder in this technological society to create the environment which gives children options that will get them moving, but these newest creations in net climbers offer a unique environment that contributes to the development of motor skills, problem-solving abilities, and muscle tone—but, most of all, keeps the kids moving.