Building confidence and connections for kids
Climbing around on a massive jungle gym might not seem like a way to learn valuable life skills, but it is.
A UACE 4-H confidence course donated by the Tucson Police Department is using ropes and ladders to help kids communicate better, trust more and overcome fears. "All of the life skills that you have to use every single day, you get to use here in a fun and interesting way," said Elizabeth Sparks, a faculty member in the Pima County Cooperative Extension who manages the course.
The interconnected network of telephone poles, ropes and cables gives kids a chance to climb with safety ropes, harnesses and helmets. There is a zip line stretching a few hundred feet across the "green lot," which includes a 4-H funded water-harvesting cistern that feeds an irrigated native plant mini-garden.
The zip line launches from atop a 40-foot climbing wall. A variety of ropes, tires and hanging ladders offer ascension challenges, and there is a shady pavilion for group talks.
Volunteers moved the confidence complex in 2007, after the police department gave it to 4-H. It has been a feature of Operation: Military Kids, said Teresa Noon, the state OMK coordinator. It helps kids learn to set goals.
"Their goal doesn't have to be going all the way to the top and doing everything. Maybe their goal might be getting their feet off the ground," Noon said.
The course helps with teamwork – a useful skill for military kids when their parents are deployed. Parts of the course have to be completed with partners. One task includes walking across a 20-foot horizontal telephone pole, passing a partner in the middle.
"It was about trust. We did a lot of trust exercises," said Trenton Jones, 12, who spent time on the course shortly before his dad, a warrant officer in the Army National Guard, left for Iraq.
Knowing other kids are going through the separation of war is important, said Trenton's mother Tori.
"It gives them a sense of, 'Hey, I'm not alone'," Tori said. "The main reason I signed him up was so he could make those connections with other military kids."