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Connect to a Tree: Sit, hug, climb, swing!

In forest or outdoor schools, kids are encouraged to have regular and repeated access to the same spaces in nature. This helps them to build an ongoing relationship to, and knowledge of, a certain area outside. Trees offer kids great opportunities for play and also quiet reflection. They can offer cool shade in summer and refuge in winter. Noticing the organic changes in one spot that can be revisited over time can enhance kids’ learning about the cycles of nature.

Some trees are also great for climbing or making a tire swing. Tire swings can be incorporated into school grounds, if not permanently, as a loose part that can be adjusted to be hung at recess time.

Tires make excellent fun swings. And making a tire swing is simple!

You must be careful to choose your branches well for both climbing trees and assembling a tire swing. Test branches ahead of time to see if they will carry your weight.

You will need:

  • A large car tire (make sure it is not a winter tire as some may contain metal studs or small wires that are a hazard)
  • About 15 to 30 feet of strong rope (should be about the width of one of your fingers)
  • A stick
  • If it is a swing that has to be removed often – a strong spring hook or carabiner
    1. Find a branch that is thick, sturdy and protrudes far from the tree trunk. Make sure the area below this branch has no dangerous obstacles. The best ground surface below the branch would be something soft like grass.
    2. Get the rope over the branch. If the tire swing is permanent, lay a piece of fabric between the rope and the bark to protect the tree. If you do not have access to a ladder or if the tree is too high to safely climb, you could attach the stick to the end of the rope. The added weight will help you accurately throw the end of the rope over the branch. You can then pull the rope so that it hangs from the branch with equal length on each side. We suggest that you wrap the rope around the branch a few times and secure it with a knot at the point where it hangs down.
    3. Lift the tire vertically to the desired height (it is recommended to have the tire at least 12 to 18 inches from the ground) so you can bring both ends of the rope through the middle and hang it vertically. The best kind of knot to tie the tire may be a square knot or a bowline knot. See here. However, you could do any kind of knot, so long as when it’s tested it will safely hold a child’s weight.
    4. It is also recommended that you drill holes at the bottom of your tire to aid drainage from collected rainwater.
    5. If you are building a tree swing that must be removed when it is not being used (on school grounds, for example), find the ideal branch and set up an anchor knot and hook. This way you can secure a loop of rope around the branch and attach a sturdy carabiner or metal spring hook. The rope attached to the tire will be one long loop that can then be hooked and unhooked easily.