Boy climbing two-story high cloud sculpture on children's museum prairie.


New Heights

March 4, 2019

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The Children’s Museum of South Dakota’s iconic Our Prairie gallery is home to the beloved Cloud Climber where guests can climb to get a birds-eye view of the prairie below. Much like the way the winds twist and turn across the Midwest prairie, each cloud platform curves its way toward the sky reaching heights of two stories high at the top.

Adventure awaits on each cloud as children climb higher and higher safely enclosed by 6 miles of cable. Once children reach the top, their reactions range from a mixture of pure amazement and adrenaline to nervousness and apprehensive excitement. Like the prairie winds, their voices carry through the prairie exclaiming:

  • “Look! I made it to the top.”
  • “It’s so high up here!”
  • “I can see the whole prairie.”
  • “I’m as high as Mama T. Rex!”

As part of a learning experience called Innovation Learning Lab, a group of kindergarten through third-grade students from Medary Elementary recently explored the Cloud Climber. Many children quickly raced to the top, but upon looking down they discovered that some of their fellow classmates and friends were nervous and felt scared to climb.

This presented the group with a problem. Those who had climbed to the top wanted to include and help their friends experience the Cloud Climber, but they were unsure of how to do so. After Boy climbing two-story high cloud sculpture on children's museum prairie.acknowledging the problem, the group took a moment to step back, observe, and listen; therefore, starting an exploration of compassion and consideration for others.

Before the students could help their friends feel less scared, they had to understand where the fear was coming from. Through careful observation, listening, and dialogue, clarity about the cause of these fears became more apparent and easier to understand.

The excitement of seeing how high one can climb thrills some users, while others have a fear of heights. The varying angles of the cloud platforms may be an exciting challenge for one person but can intensify a fear of falling for another. Dialogue of what made the Cloud Climber scary for some lead to more discussion of what makes it safe.

Through research, they learned that Luckey Climbers built the Cloud Climber with concrete footings deep enough a structure strong enough, that you can theoretically land a Learjet on it. They also discovered that the cable surrounding the cloud platforms creates a safety net enclosing the climbers. Children were also surprised to learn that each platform can hold up to 1,200 pounds confirming in their minds that adults can climb, too.

Taking time to consider an experience from another person’s perspective was a powerful learning moment. It wasn’t about who was and who wasn’t scared of climbing. It was about helping others and making sure everyone felt included when playing on the Cloud Climber.

With this new understanding, they began brainstorming ways to help everyone have access to the climber. Ideas of building, creating games and even adding phones (much like the other exhibits at the museum) excited children for the next phase of this exploration.

Read how children worked together to overcome fears in next week’s post “New Heights Continued”.

Want to explore the cloud climber for yourself?