Trees are our playmates! Hopefully we all have at least one memory of climbing into a tree and the success of reaching that branch which transformed into our castle, our lookout, our safe place; it’s a hopefully a special and lasting memory. Scouting for an ideal tree is a habit that dies hard; as an adult I still notice trees that have inviting branches for climbing and rope swings. And when you do see that tree the memory is vivid; you quickly recall badly scuffed legs, sharp sticks digging in your head, the pungent smell of sticky sap, the branch just our of reach, the feeling of adrenaline and fear and the feeling of wanting that next level really badly. For children, the draw to climb trees is a powerful draw and necessary part of their development. Sometimes, we as adults feel a little on edge watching them go up way beyond us getting them down.
Tree climbing is categorised as risky play because their is always a chance that something could happen, but, an opportunity in which risk generally far outways the benefit.
Peter Gray Ph.D. describes risk as’ freedom with just the right measure of fear to produce the exhilarating blend known as thrill.’ Read more from Peter Gray on risky play and its incredible value here.
Why children benefit from climbing trees
- In the process of climbing a tree a child will be naturally assessing risk and stretching themselves up to the edge of their comfort zone. This will help development of self regulation, a sense of their own limits, strengths and capabilities and bring with it an amazing satisfaction. These skills will stand them in good stead for life.
- The development of our 6th sense : proprioception. Proprioception is ‘our brain’s awareness of our body’s position and orientation.’
- Nothing about climbing a new tree is predictable and that’s great for irregular movements and opening up new neural networks. There are proven links to unpredictable proprioceptive activities like tree climbing and strong working memory.
- Core strength and motor skills: the muscles surrounding the abdomen, pelvis and back when strong will positively influence the ability to control fine and gross motor skills.
- Concentration and focus
- Problem solving and critical thinking skills while working out the best way up and safest way down.
- Sensory integration: the thrill of risk, core body muscles working together, sights, smells, sounds of being in a wood or on a tree.
- This ongoing can help develop a real sense of belonging and relationship with nature; powerful nature connection.
- Strong sense of ‘I can do it!’
Why you should, if you can, climb a tree as an adult
Many sources state trees as playmates for children and creative and spiritual inspiration for adults but why should climbing a tree be limited to the young?
Robert Macfarlane, in his radio 4 series Landmarks and the words they conjure up , dashes off to climb tree during episode. He sounds almost apologetic as the impulse takes hold and talks about rediscovering love at 36 and ultimately the view of Cambridge. Sometimes, also, we just have to model to our kids….! In the about page of Tree Climbing Japan the founder explains a motivation for setting up this company was a 57 yr old woman with physical disabilities who dreamt of climbing a huge tree, therefore prompting him to set a company that enabled such experiences for those who would not ordinarily experience it.
That same concentration and focus that a child will experience is ours too. Being in the moment is akin to mindfulness and mental wellbeing.
Simple tree climbing tips for adults guiding children
Invite or model to our kids but ultimately let them lead; our children know what they are ready for
Teach skills and set limits.
Consider what’s right for your child; don’t help them up, instead, find a tree they an independently climb.
Encourage them climb to the height they feel comfortable. Climb up a little; climb back down and build confidence that way. Always have them practice coming down on their own.
Climb trees with healthy looking branches. Look out for dead or hanging branches.
Ensure 3 limbs at any time are secure on the tree
Teach them to think ahead about where you they are climbing to; will it take your weight? Limbs should not bend under our weight.
Have fun and please do post us some pics of your favourite climbing trees!