Slackline Playgrounds Are the Inexpensive Invention That Let Kids Play Anywhere
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Driving around last fall, I kept coming across these interesting-looking multicolored jungle gyms set up in the parkways around our neighborhood. Upon further investigation, I found out they were exactly what they looked like — obstacle courses, or “Ninja Slacklines.” They’re installed between two trees, and have various obstacles you can hang from the line. As a backyard-less renter with a very active 5 year old who was desperately missing parks (closed due to the pandemic), I was intrigued! Even now, as things are opening up again, we’re totally sold on slackline playgrounds!
I walked my daughter over to one that I’d seen close to our apartment, but felt a bit weird about letting her play on it since it wasn’t exactly ours. Even if I had tried, I wouldn’t have been able to keep her off of it — she was obsessed. Our outdoor time had been limited to scooting around the neighborhood and playing on sidewalks, and that gets old pretty quickly. This slackline thing was worthy of obsession for a playground-starved kid.
What is a slackline playground, exactly?
I posted an inquiry on our neighborhood Facebook page to see what the etiquette was for playing on them — and because I wanted to be able to chat with a parent who had purchased one. There are fantastic neighborhoods in Chicago, and within those neighborhoods, each street can be really close-knit (just try driving around in the summertime; every weekend you’ll find at least one street closure due to a block party). So when I heard from Bethany, I wasn’t surprised to hear her say that she and her husband are very close with their neighbors on the street — so close that they collectively decided to purchase and install a slackline for everyone.
They knew the kids would love it, but it also solved the issue all the parents had of keeping the kids closer to home while they played outside. Once it arrived, they got together and installed the slackline by attaching one end to Bethany’s tree, and the other end to her neighbor Robert’s tree. The installation process required no tools, just a ladder, and a few pairs of extra hands. The slackline now serves as a sort of home base for the kids: they still run around, but it keeps them from straying too far away. As silly as it may sound, the line stretching from one neighbor’s tree to the other is a really beautiful metaphor representing the bond of a community of neighbors — especially during these weird COVID times.
What do you need to know about installing a slackline playground?
The kids in Bethany and Robert’s neighborhood range from 3 to 8 years old, so they chose a kit that had a few obstacles the smaller kids could use too. Robert referenced the swing and the rope ladder and said they were easier for the smaller kids to use, while the monkey bars and gymnastic rings were for the big kids. Each obstacle attaches to a buckle strap, and can be purchased separately — so you can personalize the course or add in new obstacles if the kids want additional challenges.
I asked Robert how the trees that the slacklines were ratcheted to were holding up. He said the strips of felt that came with the kit act as a barrier between the tree and straps, and have done a great job protecting the tree.
I was interested to hear if the parents had established any rules for playing on the slackline. Robert said they’re all pretty relaxed about it, but have made sure the kids know how slacklines work, so they’re careful not to bounce other kids off the line while playing.
How can you get the most out of a slackline playground?
The really convenient thing about slacklines is that they’re not permanent. The neighbors originally planned on taking it down during the winter months, but ended up leaving it out because the kids were able to use it in new ways once the snow fell. We love an all-season play solution! Bethany said she enjoys coming home to see other kids playing on the slackline, and is happy that it’s getting maximum use. For my part, it just further confirmed the kindness and generosity of our neighbors, something that has been more apparent than ever over the past year.