Why some kids struggle on the monkey bars

May 1, 2014 5 Comments »
Why some kids struggle on the monkey bars

Q: My daughter is in Grade 1 and she likes to play on the playground with her friends at school, but she made a comment at dinner recently that worried me a little. She said that the other kids were “a lot better” than her on the monkey bars, and I could tell that she was feeling bad about herself. She’s a bit big for her age – not overweight but just large – and I’m wondering if that could be part of it.  Is there any way we could help her improve on the monkey bars?

If your daughter is bigger than most of her classmates, it sounds like she is probably just struggling with her ratio of muscle mass to overall body mass. This is pretty common at young ages. Swinging on the monkey bars requires a lot of arm strength in relation to total body mass, as well as much stronger hand grip. As a consequence, it is generally much easier for a small child to swing on the monkey bars than a big child the same age.

You don’t have anything to worry about with your daughter. You might simply want to explain to her that everyone has different body types and grows at different speeds, and that she will likely catch up with her peers on the monkey bars as everyone grows over the next year or two.

I would hazard to guess that your daughter, due to her size, probably performs better than her classmates in some other physical activities. If this is true, you might want to point this out to her.

In general, children who are big at an early age will often dominate in some physical activities, such as sprinting, throwing a baseball, or kicking a soccer ball for distance. However, as your daughter is seeing, they will often struggle with activities related to “gymnastics” type movements, such as swinging on monkey bars, or doing forward rolls and somersaults.

This doesn’t mean that you should discourage your daughter from playing on the monkey bars. To the contrary – you can explain to her that everyone’s movement skills will change over time according to our rates of growth and the degree to which we practice different skills. You can also point out that we often have different talents and abilities, and we don’t always have to be the best in everything we do.

Hopefully, she will continue playing on the monkey bars and developing her skills. This assumes that she actually likes the monkey bars and she is having fun. It shouldn’t become a “job” for her or something that she is “graded” on.

A further thought: You could consider registering your daughter in an introductory gymnastics program. She might struggle with learning certain movements, but it will greatly enhance her balance, coordination and strength in the long term.

As well, in the process, it will likely help her abilities in other physical activities and increase her overall confidence in different activity environments.

But there is a lesson here that all kids benefit from learning: we don’t have to be the best in everything we do. We might be more adept than our peers in some activities, and less adept in others. The important thing is to have fun and develop the abilities we have.

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5 Comments

  1. Blaine Kyllo
    Blaine Kyllo October 1, 2014 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    Let’s remember that “bigger” and “large” doesn’t mean “overweight”.

    Children grow at different rates, which is why you see some Grade 1 kids who are as tall as children in Grade 4.

    Kids with greater muscle mass are also going to need much greater arm strength to swing on monkey bars when compared to lithe, lean kids.

  2. Kari October 1, 2014 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    This post was a little different as expected. I’m a parent to two kids that are very good at monkey bars so much as kids and parents are pointing this out. Why can’t my kids do that. Nope it is not because of gymnastics. It is because they have been allowed to climb trees and play outside every day from an early age.

  3. Deon October 1, 2014 at 5:29 am - Reply

    Sorry but I disagree..
    Children are good at what they are exposed to. For example I take my children to the park three times a week and have taught them to use the monkey bars quite adeptly. By age 3 my daughter was using hand over hand on the monkey bars and by age 4 she was doing it forward and backward. In addition to this I also had a high engagement in physical movement with my children from the time they were born. There agility and coordination are a result of engaged planning and purpose. It is pretty simple, we are what we repeatedly do, so if children are exposed to and are highly active their adaptation to various physical activities will be with ease regardless of size.

    As a comparison, if my children came home upset about not being able to play the piano, I would look at her and say, “well sweetie you have to practice at something to be good, do you want to do this, lets find someone who can teach you piano”. The same advice should be given to this child/parent, if you want to be good at something it takes exposure and practice.
    If a child is on the large side this is more often than not the result of environment and their engagement in activity. Yes genetically some children are big, but if they are exposed to lots of physical activity their strength will develop accordingly.
    In my opinion your article is a cough out and the reason we are facing a generation of children whose life span will not be greater than their parents, obesity epidemic…..

    • Jim Grove
      Jim Grove October 1, 2014 at 2:54 pm - Reply

      Deon, are you saying that if one six-year-old child is 4 feet tall, and her classmate is 3 foot 6 inches, that this difference is the result of their relative amounts of engagement in activity? On their own, physical activity and practice do not account for all variations in size and physical coordination. There are very real principles of growth and maturation involved, and growth and maturation can vary dramatically between different children. This is genetically determined and well-researched. You might have read the story above and imagined that it was comparing children with different levels of “fitness” and movement experience. Just to clarify, that is not what is being discussed here. You can actually have children with equal physical fitness and movement experience (e.g. total hours of practice) and still have significantly different outcomes in coordination and performance. Differences in limb length ratios, torso length, maturation of the central nervous system, etc. — all of these things have an impact on performance, and they are mostly contingent on genetics and/or rates of maturation.

  4. Ryan July 22, 2014 at 10:53 am - Reply

    Great blog here Jim. Every child is different and oftentimes parents compare children to other children which can lead to misconceptions. When we see children comparing it is up to us as positive role models to reinforce their individualism!

    Love it!

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