The Endangered Art of Climbing

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The Endangered Art of Climbing

Why Your Kids Need To climb!

As your sofa will attest, kids love to climb!  Climbing is a great sport developmentally for kids, both physically and emotionally.  It increases strength, endurance and flexibility while encouraging patience, stamina, confidence and trust in themselves.  Climbing offers that X-Factor which is so rare these days – risky play! 

Dr. Joe Frost was the Godfather of Play, he advocated for play environments and researched play for over 50 years.  He wrote extensively about climbing and why it is so integral for kids today.

1) Fun: “Children climb for fun,” says Dr. Frost. They climb to explore, to compete, to tap into their imagination and play make-believe, to chase their friends, and so much more.

2) Development:“All healthy children are born to climb,” says Dr. Frost. “Soon after birth, children employ built in natural instincts to seek, see, explore, touch, and move objects and build mental and physical capabilities leading to initial climbing skills.” It’s in their nature. Climbing behavior follows normal developmental processes.

3) Learning: “Children are wired to learn and learning by climbing carries benefits in skill development, health, fitness, and injury prevention.” Children often climb to explore and gain new perspectives.

4) Adrenaline: Healthy development requires that children have many opportunities to take risks. Young children love to push the boundaries of what theyshould do and climbing is another way for them to experience a “sense of danger,” says Dr. Frost.

I don't want to watch my kids fall! 

It is nerve wracking watching your child take risks and test their physical limits.  However, psychologist Peter Gray, leading expert on risky play, suggests the benefits to child are so immeasurable, that our parenting boundaries are actually impacting negatively on their mental health.  

“The story is both ironic and tragic,” Gray writes. “We deprive children of free, risky play, ostensibly to protect them from danger, but in the process we set them up for mental breakdowns. Children are designed by nature to teach themselves emotional resilience by playing in risky, emotion-inducing ways. In the long run, we endanger them far more by preventing such play than by allowing it

In the “old days” kids had much more freedom generally, their communities, streets and social environment was much safer – so they could climb a tree and scrape a knee without intervention.

As parents, the instinct is to intervene and either prevent or “help.”  Professional advice is to do neither, stay close and observe.

Helping contrarily can endanger the child, as it enables them to get higher than their natural ability would usually allow.   This is the case on a tree, on a bed, in a playground.   They are then often ‘stuck,’ and need yet more help to return to the ground or keeping going.  It sends the message that they must rely on you, the parent.

 This is not a suggestion you ignore cries for help! Always respond but be mindful, be observant.  If you need to intervene, try doing so verbally before you do so physically.   Magda Gerber wrote in, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect, Rather than give the message, “When you are in trouble, you scream and I rescue you,” we would like to convey the feeling, “I think you can handle it, but if not, I am here.” 

Spend as much time as allowed in the outdoors – in better days, that is parks and playgrounds but on rocks, in trees, on logs.   Then consider your indoor space – is your sofa the sacrifice? Or could you create an invitation to safely climb inside?

This can be especially important and helpful if you live in a small home and don’t have easy access to a yard, or if you live in climates that make outdoor play prohibitive at times.

Image courtesy @Emily Mahon

Indoor Climbing Toys:

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