Edu-PLAY-tion: Children and Climbing: Going Beyond the Indoor Vinyl Mats and Outdoor Jungle Gyms

kidonrock

The Huffington Post article on the benefits of rock climbing covers many aspects that I have personally experienced since beginning only a few short months ago. Among the benefits, it lists physical benefits such as total body workout, mental benefits such as reducing stress and also mentions life skills acquired from climbing. It’s a great read because, at the end of the article, it gives some suggestions for getting started.

This post specifically addresses benefits to children, elementary-aged and under; yes I said UNDER! From my short experience thus far I have encountered many preschool age and elementary aged boys and girls who regularly engage in climbing with their parents, mostly in a gym and tethered to a rope. However, I have encountered family outings involving rock climbing on the rock face too.

kidsonwall

I love seeing children in the gym and on the rock face. Here is why- these kids are beginning to learn how to assess risk and take safe risks, and their parents are open to and encouraging such behavior in a safe environment. They are learning how to communicate with their parents, who are often acting as their belayer (the person on the ground that is controlling the rope). They are building a bond of trust with their parents and within themselves. They are learning how to set goals, how to receive failures, and how to celebrate successes. They are learning how to focus on a particular problem (the term used to describe a route on the wall or rock face), and how to creatively solve that problem. Additionally, they learn how to accept help from someone else, and understand that their perspective on the wall differs from someone else’s on the ground, but that both can be correct. Whether climbing in a gym or climbing a rock face outdoors, children can self-scaffold their learning by discussing and assessing a particular problem with their parent and determining whether to attempt it or not. In a gym, different routes are color coded by degree of difficulty, providing a visual aid for assessment. Children also see their peers struggle and succeed on problems that they may have struggled or succeeded. Thus they learn from observing others and are also able to give encouragement to others. In the climbing community, everyone is very open to asking for and giving advice to each other to advance each other’s skills. There is no competition except within the self unless of course, one chooses to enter a climbing competition; yes they do exist! Children who climb, whether on a wall in a gym or outdoors on a rock face, or even up a tree, learn to overcome limits, boundaries, and fears which builds self-confidence, body awareness, and self-trust.

rockclimbPhysically, children are instinctive movers. Climbing provides a total body expenditure of energy. It builds their upper body strength, lower body strength, core strength, and flexibility. Think “playing Twister on a wall” or doing yoga on a wall. Children learn to move from climbing like a sprawled out spider to moving more like a slithering snake, turning hips into the wall, moving left and right, in addition to vertically. It is also a great cardio workout, think “stair climbing on a wall” 🙂

Social-emotional development is imperative for young children. Children learn to take turns while waiting for rope availability. When old enough, children learn the skills of belaying so that they can then provide ground support for someone else. Belaying reinforces communication skills and trust bonds, as they are now responsible for another’s safety while on belay. They also enter a partnership of turn taking. You belay me; I belay you.

Because not all children enjoy team sports, climbing is an individual sport that can fuel a child’s love of fitness without relying on a team. Climbing’s focus is on individual effort and is non-competitive so all children can “play” regardless of skill level. Resilience building is by far one of the most important socio-emotional skills a child can learn and climbing is a great activity to assist in building this skill. Children learn that it is okay not always to make it to the top on the first attempt.

wallclimbAdded to the list of benefits is getting kids outdoors to climb where they can begin to appreciate, respect, and care for their natural world. The socio-emotional benefits of “raising a wild child” through rock climbing and ensuring that each child receives his/her daily dose of Vitamin N are too numerous to list. Suffice it to say that children who engage in regular activity in nature, not just organized sports played outdoors, but genuine engagement with nature, benefit in a way that at the very least assists them in forming bonds with our natural world, leading to a desire to care for the natural world. There is something very powerful and magical that happens when a child approaches a massive wall of rock and begins to ascend that wall tethered only by a rope.

So when you see your toddler or preschooler climbing the furniture, the banister, tables, and chairs, do you both a favor and head to your local climbing gym to get started. When ready, after proper training, which many gyms provide, either included in the climbing fee or as an extra charge, head outdoors to a local rock face, prepared with quality gear in hand. But please be advised that there may well be an increased occurrence of OCD (Obsessive Climbing Disorder) diagnosed within your family. 🙂

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