Why Is It Called a Jungle Gym? (Discussed)

Cartoon of Steve in smart trousers and blazer

Worried about your child who is always climbing on banisters, furniture, and sometimes even people?

Take them to a generally safer place to climb: the playground. 

Better yet, purchase a jungle gym at home. 

There is an indoor or outdoor jungle gym version. 

But why is it called that? 

Let’s try and dissect the name of this fun bit of playground equipment. 

The name jungle gym came from inventor Sebastian Hinton. He created the equipment to give children an outlet for their active nature. Hinton noticed that children like to climb and swing back and forth, just the way monkeys do. Humans and monkeys, after all, belong to the mammalian order known as primates. The jungle gym is meant to mimic a forest top where a troop of monkeys converge and play. 

Jungle Gym: A Brief History

It is essential to tackle the history of the jungle gym to understand why it is called such. 

A jungle gym is a piece of playground equipment invented by lawyer Sebastian Hinton in 1920. 

Hinton was married to school teacher Carmelita Chase, who didn’t like the traditional learning of being cooped inside the four walls of the classroom. 

She would often take the children outside to have fun while learning. 

While observing his wife and the school children outside their home in Winnetka, Illinois, Hinton decided to build a large structure made of metal frames that children could climb on. 

The design was inspired by the geometric dome his genius father Charles Hinton created when he was younger. 

The younger Hinton and his siblings used to play together in that geometric dome. 

Sebastian called his creation the jungle gym and patented it as Junglegym. 

Jungle Gym: How the Name Came About

Is it a jungle?

Is it a gym?

It’s neither. But why is it called the jungle gym?

Hinton’s patent application has some answers. 

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the cubic metal playground frame he had applied a patent for was “a kind of forest top through which a troop of children may play in a manner somewhat similar to that of a troop of monkeys.”

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

The patents were awarded in 1923. 

But why isn’t it called monkey bars instead?

Monkey bars are a separate thing and have their roots in the jungle gym. 

Monkey bars are playground equipment that looks like a suspended horizontal ladder. 

One could say that monkey bars are part of the modern jungle gym, which usually includes ropes for swinging. 

In some cases, slides and swings are also added to the jungle gym. 

The British calls the jungle gym a climbing frame. 

It makes more sense because the original jungle gym consists of many climbing frames. 

Hinton had a deep explanation of the equipment: “Climbing is the natural method of locomotion which the evolutionary predecessors of (humans) were designed to practice… and is therefore almost ideally suited for children.”

It was an answer to fears that children may fall from the jungle gym. 

But as humans are primates, the same as monkeys, there is a natural instinct to climb and swing. 

And if they do fall, it is mostly non-fatal and just part of life. 

While Hinton didn’t explicitly explain why it is called the jungle gym, one can surmise that the name is because monkeys live in nature’s gym, the jungle. 

They also live in forests and plains and mostly stay in trees where they can easily find food while staying away from predators. 

Plus, the jungle gym is basically a gym for children, just more fun!

Children sweat and improve their physical health while in the jungle gym. 

What Is a Jungle Gym?

Climbing net close up

It is a type of playground equipment made of several metal frames with some ropes so that children can climb the structure, hang on them, swing from one rope to another, and enjoy other children’s company. 

The original structure is just a bunch of metal frames that allow children to climb up and down or move forward and back through the metal bars.

Today, jungle gyms are more colorful, dynamic, and expansive. 

Some jungle gyms are still made of metal while others are made of wood. 

It’s More Than Just Play Equipment

There is no doubt that a jungle gym is fun. 

But Hinton had more than just fun in mind. 

The jungle gym can also help in a child’s physical and mental development. 

Climbing allows children to use all the muscles in their limbs. 

It helps improve a child’s motor skills and spatial awareness as they navigate the many parts of the structure. 

The jungle gym also helps develop the kids’ balance, agility, and coordination. 

As they maneuver the bars, they also become more analytical with their movements. 

And don’t discount the jungle gym’s contribution to a child’s social skills. 

Playing in a jungle gym provides them with an avenue to make friends with other children. 

Finally, risk-averse children could slowly conquer their fear when they see other children easily navigating the jungle gym. 

If their friends can do it, so can they. 

They can join their peers in climbing, hanging, and swinging on the jungle gym just as monkeys conquer the forest and jungle trees together. 

Final Thoughts

INFOGRAPHIC Answering the Question Why Is It Called a Jungle Gym
Click infographic to enlarge.

Humans are primates. 

Monkeys are primates too. 

We have a lot of things in common, and the instinct to climb is just one of them. 

And just as monkeys have the natural gym (canopies) in the jungle and forests where they can climb and hang together, children also have the jungle gym. 

Naming playground equipment for climbing as a jungle gym is really quite smart. 

A jungle gym is not just something children use for fun. 

It is their own little gym where they can improve their physical and mental health. 

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