HumanJungleGym LOFDid you love jungle gyms as a kid as much as I did?

I like them because they’re “stable”—they stay in one place and allow the child to explore creatively on, under, over, around, and inside it.

But guess what?!

We, as parents/caregivers are natural-born Human Jungle Gyms!

Stable and Mobile

First, to clarify. By stable, I mean ‘stays in one place (ish),’ or stationary. By mobile, I mean ‘moves, locomotes, travels in space.’

In her first months, Baby is stable and you are mobile. Of course she wiggles! But she can’t yet traverse distance on her own—you move her. Her experience is of being picked up, moved, held, and put down.

Once Baby, on her tummy, begins pushing herself backward on the floor, spinning in a circle, and belly crawling forward—and later hands-and-knees-crawling, sitting, pulling up to standing, and sidestepping—she is mobile! She’s traveling short or long distances, going up and down in space (tummy to sitting to standing), and she’s curious!

Her mobile-ness (during safe playtime) is an invitation for you to be her “stable” partner. It’s a wonderful way to interact and play with your baby in a way that supports development and fosters connection!

How to be a Human Jungle Gym

When you’re hanging out on the floor with Baby, you automatically have built-in levels and ledges for climbing upon. It’s really quite wonderful how nature provides!

HumanJungleGym bc lap

Lap: Your lap is the perfect height for a belly crawler to climb up and over. The “up” part encourages her to coordinate her legs and push with her feet; the 
“over” part requires use, coordination, and strengthening of her arms. Both give
HumanJungleGym kneel lapher experience with a variety of territory. It’s also a perfect height for Baby to kneel (“sitting” on forelegs and “standing” on knees)–very important and wonderfully integrating positions!

Knees: Tunnels! Sitting (perhaps leaning back) with your feet on the floor and knees bent toward the ceiling creates a combo tunnel/climbing mountain! Great for belly- and hands-and-knees- crawlers.

Shoulders: Yours are the perfect height for the baby who’s pulling up to standing. Pulling up on furniture is fun too. But to discover your way to standing and find Mama’s face when you get there?! Or perhaps your hair was her motivation in the first place…!

Arms and hands: A sidestepping (“cruising”) baby may pull up on your lap and shoulder and then hang on to you while circling around you. Your arms can make creative ledges too.

Climb5 HumanJungleGymLying down: This can be a great “play gym” position for the mobile baby who’s not yet standing. Try lying on your back, your side, or even on your tummy for different heights. Baby can climb up on you; then to get off, she has a wonderful opportunity to explore balance and different relationships to gravity as she reaches off with her hands or her feet.

TT chest to chest1

On an incline: Do you ever sit down and lean back, with Baby on you chest-to-chest? This is a wonderful relational event that allows Baby to experience herself in a different way in gravity (other than upright or lying down), and it’s even “tummy time”!

These are some ideas that have you sitting or lying on the floor. Perhaps you’ll discover other ways in these or other positions!

A Word About Your Hands

When Baby climbs on you, it can be very tempting to use your hands to pick her up, prevent her from falling, “walk” her around you, or hold on to her. Unless she’s asking to be picked up or held, be curious if she actually needs your hands on her.

  • If she’s belly-crawling toward you and reaches your lap, do you pick her up? What if you “wait and see”? Does she actually want to be picked up, or is she curious and exploring, and would she continue climbing up and over you if allowed?
  • If there’s clear danger and she could hurt herself, obviously please help her! If she’s learning a new skill, like belly crawling forward off a ledge (off your lap), you might be surprised at how safely she navigates it by herself and how a slight, small “fall” doesn’t scare her. (I do mean “small” fall, and I don’t mean neglect)
  • The more she’s allowed to do only what she’s ready to do, without being propped by devices or by hands (e.g., stood or “walked”), the safer and wiser she’ll be. Think stable/mobile: if she’s mobile and you want to offer a hand, offer it as a strong and stable ledge, rather than as something that moves along with her and holds her up. This way she’s in charge of her own weight and her own experience.

Being a Jungle Gym—Benefits for Baby

  • Relationship and connection while playing, moving, and exploring
  • Balance
  • Creative problem solving
  • Over, under, through, around, on, off, toward, and away
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Strength-building all over
  • Reflex and brain development requiring 3-dimensional use of space
  • Spatial orientation
  • Inner ear health
  • Safer falling because she knows herself in different positions in gravity
  • Autonomy and empowerment—she gets to choose how she wants to relate with you and she does only what she can do herself

Go forth, get down on the floor, and have fun playing with your baby!

© Eliza Parker 2012, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my writing in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

Much of my work comes from Infant Developmental Movement Education®, part of the Body-Mind Centering® Approach to Somatic Education, and Dr. Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting. I am a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Aware Parenting Instructor, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, and Feldenkrais® Practitioner.