50 Dangerous Things: Learn Tightrope Walking

Kid Using Slackline

Task: Act like a circus performer and develop your sense of balance



  • Parking Curb
  • Low wall
  • A tightrope or a slackline

Possible Hazards:

  • Frustration
  • Falls
  • Sprained Ankle

How it all went down:

I wouldn’t mind joining the circus about now so this task was right up my alley. We actually try to balance on a lot of things – you’ve seen us slackline in the past.  But how do you get from plain old walking to balancing your way across a tightrope?  Practice!  It simply takes time to develop your sense of balance.  The best, and safest (Gasp! Did we just say that?) way is to start by trying to balance on everyday objects and working your way up to higher and wobblier things as you improve.

If you want to start really simple, find a place on the sidewalk or pavement with a long, straight crack.  Pretend it’s a tightrope and walk across it.


Once you’ve got that down, move on to something a little higher, like parking curbs.  The key to balancing is keeping your eyes up.  Find a spot on the horizon to focus on.  It seems counterintuitive, but think about it.  Do we look down at our feet when we’re walking normally?  Spreading your arms out helps, too, by spreading  out your mass and reducing your angular velocity.  Keep practicing until it feels as easy as walking across a crack in the sidewalk.  Katie’s gotten so good she can run across the parking curbs.


Once that gets comfortable, move up to something higher.  No kid can resist climbing on low walls.  Thomas and Benjamin spent a good 30 minutes running up and down this ledge at the library. I timed each run and they tried to beat their times. I admit, if they had fallen, there would have been blood. But it had rained all day and these boys had plenty of energy. They have a pretty good handle on their limits when it comes to balance.  Plus, I’m sure they were missing us at Urgent Care, so I let them run.

Kid using Gibbon slackline

You don’t have to be able to run across low walls (or leap buildings in a single bound) to attempt the slackline.  The beauty of the slackline is that you can adjust the height and the wobbliness yourself.  It’s a fun activity for all ages, and draws both kids and adults in like bees at a cookout.  Emily is a gymnast and can now go the farthest on the slackline of all the kids.

Perfecting your balance is a great risky activity to try if you want to dip your toes into risky play.  Not only are you working on a physical skill, you’re subtly building skills kids will need throughout their lives:  feeling confident on unfamiliar footing and learning to face failure (falling) and get right back up to try again.  Next time you come across some sort of balance beam, go ahead. It’s fun and the only way to improve your balance is to work on it a little each day.

And if you know where I can find a real tightrope, gimme a call.  My circus dream awaits.


Do you find that your kids naturally gravitate to playing on things that challenge their balancing skills?  Do you let them?  Or is your gut response to ask them to get down before they get hurt?  Does this change your mind?  You can read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).



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