Those of us of a certain age remember riding bikes full tilt down steep hills with no helmets, knee- or elbow pads. Yes, we crashed and our memories of those escapades remain intact just the same.
Meanwhile, according to a 2011 study, over a third of children between the ages of six and fifteen surveyed had never climbed a tree, even though participating in such outdoor activities aid a child’s mind, body and emotions.
Simply put, teaching kids to climb trees safely does far more good than the potential for harm it represents. In fact, it can be argued you’re doing children more harm keeping them indoors and “safe”. And yet, the most “adventure” many kids experience is as avatars in first person video games.
Here’s how to teach your child to climb a tree.
- Carefully select the Tree
Tree Climbers International, a worldwide organization of people who love to climb trees, recommends looking for a tree that is large enough — but not too large — is in good health and has a number of branches capable of supporting your weight.
The trunk of the tree you choose should be at least 18 inches in diameter, free of an abundance of broken limbs, fallen branches around it and fungus at its roots. This should provide a platform strong enough to support you and your child. Another good feature to look for is knots and kinks in the bark your child and you can use as footholds during the ascent.
- Model the Process
As outlined in one of its Climbing activites for toddlers, Tinkergarten suggests you begin by climbing into the tree yourself, so you can show the child where to step and how to hold on. As they reach each level you’ve achieved, move up a bit higher so they can watch and duplicate your efforts.
A number of different techniques are also spelled out in its “Climb a Tree” activity. These describe walking up the trunk, grabbing at knots and branches as well as hugging the trunk. Demonstrate each process to your child and provide encouragement along the way, being careful to stay close enough to your kiddo to grab them should they slip. Your presence in the tree, along with your demonstrations, will give them more confidence.
- The Descent
Perhaps ironically, going down can be more difficult for many people (including adults) than going up. This is because we tend to look up when we’re climbing. Focusing on our ascension, we can be unaware of how high we’re getting until we’ve run out of branches capable of supporting our weight. That’s when we look down and are surprised to see how far away we are from the ground.
To counter this, descend in the exact same order, stepping on all of the same branches, using all of the same handholds and etc. Doing so while facing the trunk of the tree relieves anxiety more than facing away from it. Plus if you slip, you’ll have the advantage being able to grab onto the trunk for support.
The feeling of accomplishment a child gets from climbing a tree contributes significantly to the development of self-confidence. The benefits of this are many, including a greater resistance to peer pressure. Moreover, the thought processes children engage when you’re teaching kids to climb trees safely provide a solid foundation for critical thinking and sound judgment.
So go ahead, let them climb trees!