Making a Zip Wire

7 April 2013 · 0 comments

in Outdoor Play, Science Outdoors, Technologies, Urban

The rope activity has been an ongoing work in progress this session. Both classes I work with have enjoyed the time in one corner of the school grounds. It has been a long term experiment for all staff and children.

To begin with, we have limited numbers of trees. If you look carefully at all the photos, some are taken from great angles which make the place look woody. It isn’t. We are working around 20-50m from a dual carriageway and not far from Aberdeen’s busiest hospital. There is not a sense of wildness. I often wonder what passers-by think when they see what we are up to.

I always feel it’s best to start making the most of what we have, rather than sighing wistfully for what we don’t have. The advantage of such few trees is that we start learning what works best where. Every tree has status and value. For example, we now know which trees work best for swings, where to put up the rope bridge and hammock. So we are lucky.

One of the ongoing challenges has been a zip wire. There is something very free about a zip wire. However, it’s taken weeks to work out how to create one that we feel happy with. Firstly it starts with a child grabbing a special stick and placing it on top of a rope. They take a run, hold on with both hand and then manage a second or two before falling off or the rope sagging too much.

The next step on from this, is holding onto a stick higher up. The challenge here is the about of upper body strength needed. So a seat was definitely worth creating.

We experimented with a karabiner and tyre. Would this work, in that tyres are often more comfy to sit on than the special sticks? I refer to the sticks as “special” because I’ve imported them into the grounds. We have great wishing rods but lousy fallen sticks for work which requires strength and won’t break when sat upon. These are sticks that are cut from trees during winter.

The tyre turned out to be rubbish and so did the karabiner. What we needed was a pulley system. We began with using a traditional pulley but could not attach this in the way we needed it too for moving horizontally. Luckily, I have all sorts of interesting bits and pieces lying around at home and this included a traversing pulley. This helped enormously. It’s the orange metal bit you see in the photos on the horizontal rope.

The comfort levels were also an issue one session. Fleece is nice soft material so this was used to make the seat stick more comfy.

We also learned experientially about dynamic and static ropes. Dynamic ropes stretch when weight is applied. This means that however tightly you think you have tied the rope to the tree and however taut it seems, it’s going to stretch and sag when you try and use it for a zip wire. So all the pink rope was not fit for this purpose.

I went along to a local outdoor shop and decided to get a length of static rope. This stretches less and was much better. Then we were left with two challenges. A lack of height. The child particularly interested in the zip wire was frustrated about not being able to get the rope high enough to get a fast enough ride. There was a lot of chucking of ropes into tall branches with little success.

This was finally sorted the other week, thanks to a teenager visiting on work placement who really liked climbing and got up the “unclimbable” tree in a jiffy. He was really sensible with the ropes and quite happy to look after the system. At last we got a zip wire that worked!

What has been good has been the time we’ve made to enable this sort of experimentation to happen. Initially the child who was most interested was very directive. So he would make requests of the staff to do things on his behalf. He would not do the work other than the testing of the zip wire. As the weeks progressed he began to acquire the other skills and when the older child (on work experience) came to the session he was able to advise and direct him as to what was needed and why. All-in-all it’s been an interesting experiment for some of the children, staff and myself.

What will next term bring, I wonder…

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