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Climbing by Numbers: Dad uses Shed Climbing Wall to Teach Kids Maths

As parents across the globe struggle to keep their kids educated and entertained while schools are closed, Bournemouth-based dad-of-two David Bryant came up with an idea. He recently posted a video on Facebook of a stay-at-home maths lesson in the garden. On a makeshift climbing wall on the side of his shed, David has been teaching his two young daughters numbers, maths and the alphabet using climbing as a tool for learning and to keep them occupied during lockdown.

Elizabeth (age 6) enjoying her new maths classes.   © David Bryant
Elizabeth (age 6) enjoying her new maths classes.
© David Bryant

We sent David some questions about his creative classes...

How did you come up with the idea to combine climbing and maths/learning the alphabet?

The girls were the inspiration, they're always climbing on everything in the garden. I built them monkey bars from a ladder and step ladder at the start of the week, when I say built, I mean gaffa taped the ladders together, with a bag of sand for ballast at the bottom. In our household it was sensible for my work to take the "social distancing" hit, allowing my wife to work from home.

I have taken on the responsibility of schooling and entertaining the girls during the day. It feels like we've had about 5 months of rain, so I was desperate take as many lessons into the garden as possible. As I'm a landscaper I have plenty of spare materials in stock, I knew the shed would take it as it has 22mm thick TGV walls, so I just got building one afternoon. The alphabet side is still being made, this time making holds from 36mm (glued 18mm ply), then cutting and sanding them into various shapes.

How do your girls react to the sessions?

They love them, especially Elizabeth, my 6 year old. We did some quick hold additions as I forgot how small the girls are. They would mark a cross in pen to show where they would like a hold. I still need to pop in some extra low holds for Charlotte. We've done many sessions of number recognition and setting each other challenges - the girls always seem to send me to find the zero (the highest hold on the board).
The addition and subtracting challenges have been aided by the number line, ensuring Elizabeth calculates the correct answer. The sessions are generally led by them, I see what aspect they enjoy and we evolve from there.

Have you got any other educational ideas for the wall?

The additional holds I'm making will provide the space for the alphabet, we can then set challenges to find letters and spell words. It's become a family effort on the ideas front too. We send daily videos and pictures to grandparents on our family WhatsApp group, so they've been providing ideas too such as "Print and laminate common words. Pick part of a story book for inspiration and use slots in the block to hold the words."

Once everything is built it would be fun to provide a maths problem, having to hit each component of the problem on the number board and then climb around the corner to the alphabet board to spell the answer.

What tips would you give to climbing parents who might want to try a similar thing/construct a climbing wall similar to yours?

First tip would be, use what you've got, especially as buying from DIY stores is restricted or difficult at the moment. Most of what I've made has come from offcuts, the number holds totalled about 3 lengths of CLS timber and a box of screws (£20 max).

The alphabet holds are being made from 18mm ply I have glued together to make 36mm timber I can shape. Again this has been spare from a recent project, but I think I'll be using about £35 worth of timber for this. I know that professional setups use M10 bolts and T Nuts, but again to keep costs down I have used a pair of 6 x 80mm screws per hold. They're definitely strong enough for my children (and me).

Log cabins in gardens are really popular nowadays with walls ranging from 28-70mm, people could make some holds and screw them direct to it. Failing this, battening timber to a masonry wall and then attaching 18mm plywood would be a suitable surface for hold attachment.
I don't have bouldering mats, but did have some old carpet underlay in the garage. Artificial lawn also works on top of hard surfaces to help protect children from impact.

What else are you doing to keep them entertained, educated and fit?

We're lucky to have a very under used (but tired) BMX track 200m from our house, we get a daily ride there. Everything else happens in the garden, a couple of years back I built a raised play house with connecting walkway and slide, the impromptu monkey bars connect into this. Joe Wicks (P.E. with Joe) is doing his bit for my wife and the girls too each morning, and the girls also love the trampoline. Our garden isn't big, I'm just trying to use every available space and surface. Swimming used to be a popular activity for us, I'm trying to figure how best to facilitate this...

Watch the videos of David's sessions below:

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4 Apr

Great idea. Devoid of anything vertical other than a tottering back wall, we have used chalk on the patio as a maths/English 'Twister'. Wayyyy cheaper.

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