Brachiation is the movement by which primates swing from tree limb to tree limb using only their arms. Put simply it is the form of movement whereby one swings from one arm to the other across overhead equipment – think of a child crossing an overhead monkey bar or gladiator rings – that is brachiation.
Making the left and right hemispheres of the brain work together in an alternating fashion is critical to the neurological development of children, which is why the act of crawling is so important for infants. Of course, with the exception of the odd crawl tunnel in junior playgrounds, there is little compulsion for school aged children to crawl. This is where brachiation comes in – swinging hand over hand from one rung to another makes the brain work in the same way. We are quite fortunate in New Zealand that “upper body equipment” is included in nearly every school playground and the vast majority public playgrounds – be it the plain over-head ladder or the more dynamic spinning rings. In fact, this is almost considered a requirement of playgrounds in New Zealand, this is not the case in the European playgrounds and especially the UK.
Crossing an overhead ladder from one side to the other is hard work – go out to your playground and give it a go, if you haven’t been on the monkey bars for a few years you will soon see what we mean. Playing on a playground structure that includes a number of overhead components during playtime is a fantastic way of building kids endurance and fitter kids are not only more alert but they find it easier to get through the school day without getting drowsy. Some other ways this translates to positive outcomes in the school environment:
• Proprioception helps children to understand their personal space and how their action might impinge on the personal space of others
• Communication and conflict resolution – negotiating with another child who might be crossing on the other direction – how will they move around each other, who’s turn is it?
• Small and fine motor skills help with writing, typing, painting etc
• A strong upper body is very important for posture and sitting comfortably at a desk for long periods.
Albert Einstein said “Play is the highest form of research”. This is something we live by as play is an integral part of what it means to be human. Developing minds learn so much of what they will need to cope with a school environment and the world at large – the benefits of brachiation are a great example of this. Playground People are proud of the role our playground equipment plays in the development of children in schools around New Zealand.