Children love to climb trees - they appear to be magnetically pulled upwards when they discover a branch beckoning up to them. Happily, it is really good for them! Climbing trees helps children develop physical strength, gross motor-skills, an enhanced vestibular sense, focus, confidence and resilience. As carers of children we may be worried about the potential danger of tree-climbing, but actually by preventing children from learning to climb and becoming reasonably accomplished we are probably putting them in more danger.
Gordon Woodall, one of the pioneers of Forest School in the UK, tells of his experience of working with dis-affected teenagers in the 1990’s where a child climbed high up a tree and then jumped down, breaking his leg. This child had no idea how to risk-assess for himself, having never been enabled to, and presumed it was safe. There is an increasing concern that we are actively preventing children from making safe choices for themselves by removing all opportunities to develop the essential survival skill of risk assessment.
Climbing a tree sparks pure joy - reaching a private sanctuary in the treetops, conquering the challenge of non-uniformity in nature, and providing a wonderful sense of simple mental and physical accomplishment.
So how can we help support our children in learning the art of tree climbing?
Start small, and support their first forays before stepping back and letting them do it on their own.
A few safety rules:
- Suitable footwear- snugly fitting and affording some ‘feedback’ with the tree;
- A dry tree- wet can be slippery;
- Choose trees with strong branches. Branches are strongest in the V where they leave the trunk;
- Say as close to the trunk of the tree as possible;
- Test branches before trusting them with your whole weight;
- Always abide by the RULE OF THREE-there should always be three points of contact when climbing a tree- two hands and a foot/two feet and a hand- always three;
- Don’t climb to high! Most children self-regulate but some may need a limit putting on how high they can go;
- Get down the same way you came up and go slowly;
- Adults beware of startling children climbing trees - stay calm! “Do you feel safe?” is a far better alternative to “be careful!”.