As a parent, we celebrate our children’s first gross motor milestones. The first time they roll over, the first time they crawl, those precious first steps. But then the baby book runs out of pages.Our children become stable on their feet and we are more likely to complain about their new physical feats. Climbing out of the cot, scaling the bookcase, or in my house, escaping out of the ground floor window!
We probably should be celebrating these achievements. Maybe not encouraging a fast route to injury or applauding an escape attempt but appreciating a commitment to physical self-development that most adults would envy.
Toddlers and young children constantly challenge themselves. They push their bodies to the limit, fall down, get back up and find new ways to get where they want to be. Their resilience and tenacity is impressive but as they get older and master the skills, they don’t need to try as hard. Although they may still engage in sports and physical activity, it is a rare few who have the sheer determination to practice every day and become top of their game.
I’d like to get tree climbing added to that book of firsts.
Up, Up and Away
As a family, we are privileged to have access to nature and green spaces to play in. We are surrounded by trees but it occurred to me last year that I never saw my daughter climb any. Some of the barriers to tree climbing are our own fears about our child’s safety: falls, injuries, snake encounters, spider bites. We are often also influenced by social norms that compel us to shout things like “get down” so our child doesn’t appear to be the ‘unruly one’.
Children learn by imitation so with this in mind, a camping trip in the Botswana Bush provided the perfect opportunity for me to shimmy up a tree. This proved to be slightly more challenging that the tree climbing days of my childhood but it did evoke wonderful memories of scaling oaks and willows in English garden of my Grandmother and finding a less than comfortable branch to perch on to read a book.
My daughter was thrilled, “Me next!” With a moderate amount of assistance, she climbed as high as she could and beamed from the top branches. The seal was broken. Her world had just expanded from ground level and soared into the canopies above us. What a thrill for a child to have new territory to explore!
There are so many physical and developmental benefits to climbing trees. Aside from grip and shoulder strength which are both essential for good handwriting skills, climbing can support core strength, balance and body awareness. Tree climbing also promotes positive wellbeing. Children gain confidence, test their limits and experience the positive feelings that go along with mastering a new skill. It facilitates a sense of agency, which is one of the foundations of wellbeing, the belief that you can have impact on the world around you. Climbing and exploring expands a child’s horizons. It enables them to see past boundaries and watch for opportunity which is an excellent foundation for building resilience.
So let your children climb trees.
Have faith in their ability. Spot them and make sure they are safe but do it quietly. Children don’t need our constant encouragement. They should achieve because they are intrinsically motivated, not searching for praise. Maybe, just maybe, their experiences of achievement will stay with them into adulthood. They will maintain the determination we see in our babies taking their first steps. Hopefully, our children will climb up to the canopy and refuse to be beaten.