August 09, 2022

School Playgrounds 101: Climbing Play

This is part of a series of posts on the importance of school playgrounds and how to design a play space for students. Request information about Play On!, the standards-based curriculum for active school playgrounds. 


Observe children at a playground and you will see them gravitate to climbing activities. Climbing is a natural part of childhood development and it’s one of those activities that “just happens” without the need for outside direction. In a well-designed play area, climbers are included at varying levels of challenge to provide benefits along a developmental continuum. In other words, it’s important to create a space where beginner and advanced climbers alike can develop skills and participate in a variety of climbing activities.

Benefits of Climbing Play

Climbing supports the development of perceptual-motor skills such as body and spatial awareness, provides opportunities for motor fitness and coordination, and encourages problem solving, memory recall, and visualization:

  • Reaching for rungs above the shoulder requires a child to raise his or her arms, thereby increasing cardiovascular flow. 
  • Stretching increases and maintains flexibility.
  • Climbing up ladders or walls builds upper body, grip, and arm strength.
  • Steps and ladders develop leg strength and coordination.

Make it Inclusive

Ensure that there is an accessible route to and within play environments, as well as a way for children using mobility devices to transfer onto the structure.  Once on the structure, make sure there are similar activities available for all children. In other words, if a play system has three slides, at least one of them should be located along the accessible path through the structure.  This doesn’t have anything to do with climbing and seems unrelated to this subject.

GameTime's Sensory Wave Climber® is a sensory-rich climbing activity for everyone.


Consider climbers designed to promote social and physical inclusion, like the Sensory Wave Climber from GameTime. The Sensory Wave can be used as a freestanding climber or a component attached to a play system. It features sensory rich play activities intentionally designed to offer comfortable reach and approach for people of all ages and abilities. This inclusive climber is designed with adapted hand and footholds at regular intervals and a transfer entry area, making it more usable for more people to enjoy the experience. 


Next Steps

You can learn more about climbing play, as well as all six essential physical play elements in Play On! –a standards-based curriculum that includes 125 playground activities developed by PlayCore in partnership with SHAPE America. Interested in designing a playground that incorporates these research-based best practices? Contact your local GameTime representative and ask how your playground can be recognized as a National Demonstration Site for Youth Physical Activity!