What Are the Differences (And Similarities) Between a Jungle Gym and Climbing Frame?

Cartoon of Steve in t shirt and trousers

Children need an outlet for their hyperactive minds.

They need to run, jump, climb, and swing… almost everywhere!

Make sure they don’t do it inside your house where furniture, appliances, and other home items could get destroyed. 

Instead, get them a jungle gym.

Or a climbing frame. 

What’s the difference? 

Let’s find out. 

The jungle gym and climbing frame are the same piece of playground equipment that allows children to climb, swing, and be active. The main difference is the country it emanates from. Americans use the term jungle gym while British people prefer to call it a climbing frame. Both nationalities have also used the term monkey bars, which is the same thing. 

Jungle Gym Vs. Climbing Frame: Differences and Similarities

What do you call a piece of playground equipment that allows children to climb the frame, grab a bar, and swing from one pole to the next?

If you’re an American, chances are you will call it a jungle gym. 

In the U.K., it’s called a climbing frame. 

It is sometimes referred to as monkey bars, a term that is often credited to Australians but is also commonly used in both the U.S. and the U.K.

Although to be more technical about it, the monkey bar is originally a suspended horizontal ladder that children can swing from one bar to the other. 

“In their classic form, monkey bars are just a horizontal ladder suspended above the ground by upright poles. They allow kids to hop up and swing from bar to bar much like a chimpanzee. Monkey bars were also usually a feature of larger jungle gyms, which gave kids the opportunity to climb and swing in different directions.”

Miracle Recreation

Basically, the only difference between a jungle gym and a climbing frame is based on linguistics, and the similarities are obviously aplenty. 

Do you know what other playground terms are different in the American and British languages?

American EnglishBritish English
Swing setSwings
Bounce house / inflatable castleBouncy castle

What Is a Jungle Gym or Climbing Frame?

It is a type of playground equipment made of metal pipes configured in such a style that children can climb the structure in many different ways. 

Technically, a jungle gym is made up of many climbing frames. 

In some instances, the equipment also has ropes for swinging and slides for extra fun. 

Jungle gyms or climbing frames are sometimes called monkey bars because they are often part of the configuration. 

They come in many shapes or forms as long as the principle remains the same: it is mainly for climbing. 

The History of the Jungle Gym

Sebastian Hinton is credited for inventing the jungle gym in 1920. 

He was the youngest of four children by British mathematician Charles Howard Hinton and Mary Ellen Boole. 

And it was the senior Hinton who inspired the younger Hinton to create the jungle gym. 

According to historical accounts, Charles taught his children math skills through a three-dimensional bamboo dome with evenly spaced geometric shapes. Every intersection is labeled and the children were made to climb toward the specific one Charles would call out. 

That geometric dome became influential in Sebastian’s creation of the jungle gym, as was Sebastian’s wife, Carmelita.

In the early 1900s, Sebastian lived in Winnetka, Illinois with Carmelita and their three children. 

Carmelita was a devoted teacher who wanted the school children to be more fun, progressive, and integrated with outdoor activities. 

In her book, Notable American Women, author Susan Ware wrote about Carmelita Hinton: 

“Frustrated by her own ‘dreary’ school experience, she was determined to create learning environments for her school children and others that would be joyfully experimental.”

One day, Sebastian witnesses his wife and her students playing outside their homes. He thought: Why not build a structure they could climb on?

And so the jungle gym was born and patented as Junglegym. 

The patent filing read in part:

“Children seem to like to climb through the structure and swing their head downward by the knees, calling back and forth to each other. A trick which can only be explained of course by a monkey’s instinct.” 

Sebastian Hinton’s original jungle gym is on display in the backyard of the Winnetka Historical Society Museum. 

Benefits of the Jungle Gym or Climbing Frame

Kids playing on jungle gym

Whether you call it a jungle gym or a climbing frame, you should know that this piece of playground equipment has many benefits. 

1. It Provides Physical Exercise

Too much screen time in children could lead to the following:

  • Obesity
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Insomnia

But it’s hopeless to think you can separate your child from their gadget.

The best you can do is get a jungle gym or climbing frame so the children can exercise in a fun way. 

Running, climbing, swinging, and jumping in the jungle gym can help children burn calories. 

2. It Encourages Analytical Minds

Just as Charles Hinton wanted it, the jungle gym can help children become more analytical. 

They can think about the best way to go from one part of the jungle gym to the other. 

You can also incorporate games into it the way the elder Hinton did. 

3. It Can Help Children Become More Imaginative

Children can imagine they are on an adventure to slay the dragon, so they have to climb many obstacles to get to their destination. 

Or perhaps they are pirates in a ship that is being overcome with rival pirates and they have to jump from one part of the boat to the other or climb up the sails to ensure the ship won’t capsize. 

The kids can let their imaginations run wild in the jungle gym. 

4. It Is a Great Way to Bond With Friends and Family

The jungle gym is big for one person. 

It is meant to be shared with friends and even family members. 

Most jungle gyms can accommodate adults’ weight, so the entire family can partake in the climbing adventure. 

5. It Is an Instrument for Children To Overcome Fears and Become More Confident

While many children are born active, some are inherently risk-averse. 

If your child is among those who are afraid to take risks, the jungle gym is a great way to get over that fear. 

But don’t force the child. 

Let them explore on their own and try the jungle gym one step at a time. 

Final Thoughts

INFOGRAPHIC Answering the Question What Are the Differences Between a Jungle Gym and Climbing Frame
Click infographic to enlarge.

Should you get a jungle gym or a climbing frame for your backyard?

It depends. 

Are you American or British?

Americans get jungle gyms while Brits have climbing frames. 

They are the same piece of playground equipment that allows children to climb bars, swing from ropes, and let their imaginations run wild.

It’s a jungle out there, they say. 

But at least keep your children in a safe jungle within your yard.  

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