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Dangle Contest: Exploring why kids like to be off the ground


Up to a certain age maybe 9 or 10 almost all kids are mountaineers and rock climbers. They desire height, elevation, and a clear view. In a crowd they are lost, blinded to the events taking place. They live in a world where everything is too big. The counter is too high, their feet dangle from chairs, and they bump their heads into tables. In cars they are stuck looking at the door handle and left to wonder what the world looks like as they go by. Even the freedom of light, as easy as flipping a switch is just out of reach. Climbing is their freedom; it’s their equalizer, their escape.

On nice spring days I take the classes outside, and the playground tempts us with its siren song. We practice our skills and play our games but like a magnet the playground pulls.


“Mr. Sollenberger can we climb?” they ask?

Occasionally, I give the okay, and like ants to sweet sugar, they swarm the playground. It’s a curious site to observe, often they sprint over, climb the first thing they see to the top and then simply stand up there. I remember playing tag on the playground, swinging and climbing, but I can’t remember the fascination with getting to the top. As I watch their sudden lack of activity I feel there must be more.

Up the silver house they climb. In a burst of creativity I say, “Let’s see how many people we can get on the house.” I call it the silver house but really I don’t know what it is or what one is supposed to do on it, it is a just a bunch of silver bars connected like the frame of a small house, with more bars every few feet forming a roof.


“Yeah, yeah,” the students squeal, “Great idea, Mr. Sollenberger.” I’m like the maestro conducting the orchestra; kids are climbing everywhere looking for their perch. Some go up the sides, and some head up the slanted roof, some find all the action a bit bewildering as they decided to avoid the crowds and crawl up the inside. Unfortunately, they are now having a nightmare of a time finding a perch. Do arms go through first or should the legs? One student tries one arm and one leg and is quickly met by a bar to the chest, (somewhere a prison warden smiles). The student realizes that won’t work, and he retreats. Some kids who perched near the bottom are now getting restless and are looking to move higher, this creates even more problems for the poor souls stuck on the inside as they now need to watch out for their fingers.

Eventually everyone is up and satisfied with their perch on the roof; the compliments continue to rain down on me for my wonderful idea. I thank them repeatedly, but I’m beginning to wonder if they are plotting against me in some way. Even with my colorful imagination, I can’t see what all the fuss is about; they are still just sitting there, except now they are all sitting there together.

What a wonderfully dumb idea I think to myself.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I blurt, “dangle contest!”

I don’t even remember thinking, my mouth opened and words just came out, it was like the day I opened my mouth to give directions and burped instead. I was just as shocked both times, only this time in a more positive way.

Grabbing my stopwatch, I gave my instructions. “On the count of three, everyone will slide forward from their perch and simply dangle, I’ll time you!” I said. It was like looking onto the deck of the Titanic just before it sinks, kids scrambled everywhere and they chirped wildly like little birds. “Three, two, one, DANGLE,” and with that, their lives would never be the same, such was the excitement!


Now that the students are in position and the clock is running, the struggle is mostly internal; several however, look like they just bit into an onion. As the seconds tick by I think, ‘what a strange site it must be to anyone looking out a window, an odd man stands to the side, continually checking his watch as students perform a sleeping bat routine,’ there is no movement and hardly any sound, but that’s about to change.

Plop, plop, plop,

like apples from a tree, they begin to drop, slowly at first, but then with a flurry. Some land on their feet while others crash in a pile of limbs and bitter disappointment. Once on the ground, all assume a bit of a frown as they examine their red hands. Now only a few are left, hanging like little stalactites from the roof of a cave. Their outward expressions begin to show the internal strain, faces contort and they wiggle their feet. One decides to hang from one hand giving the other a break, quickly he realizes his error and tries to regain his grip, but it’s a fatal mistake, both hands now grasp nothing but air, as he lands with a plop!

With the students now left, it’s taken on a whole new meaning, they are going for the win, and I can see it on their faces. Smiles appear despite the obvious strain, they are really enjoying it now! Its over as quick as it began; to my surprise the winner is barely congratulated. Students are already heading back up, thankfully all on the outside. “Again, again Mr. Sollenberger they shout”, as they balance on their new perch. Even the winner, with barely a rest, is a back and ready for more!

I’m as excited as the kids, their enthusiasm is infectious. Two, three more rounds we play, but fatigue is beginning to set in, our dangle time is dropping as fast as the students.

Chalk I think to myself, we need some grip chalk; I’m clearly losing touch with reality.

Sadly, we run out of time, students quickly line up at the door, dreaming of scaling great cliffs and summiting high mountains.

1 Comment

  1. Brian Frey
    March 11, 2014

    “Chalk I think to myself, we need some grip chalk; I’m clearly losing touch with reality.” Hilarious. I was thinking the exact same thing!

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