Climbing trees is great fun, and a wonderful way to get kids enjoying the outdoors and appreciating nature. Adventurous kids love the challenge of climbing a new tree, many quiet children love the feeling of getting up and away into a private world of branches, and kids of all ages can learn a greater respect for trees by climbing.
While nearly all children used to climb trees in the days before computer games and myriads of supervised activities, that’s no longer the case. Many parents are understandably nervous about a ‘dangerous’ activity like tree climbing. However, the truth is that if your child has been taught to climb trees safely with your help and approval, he will be at much less risk of injury than if he never learns to do it properly and then climbs in the park when you’re not there, without understanding the limitations of either the tree or his own strength.
Be sure to start in dry weather – wet trees can be very slippery. Find a tree with lots of nice, sturdy branches. The tree should look healthy. Growing branches are strong and can withstand much more weight than dead branches. Encourage your child to do a few stretches before starting to climb, to limber up his muscles.
The most important skill when climbing up a tree is to be able to confidently select safe footholds. As a rule of thumb, a branch that is thicker than your forearm should be able to hold your weight. But teach your child to always test each new foothold before putting his full weight onto it. The strongest point is usually where the branch joins the trunk.
Teach your child the importance of having multiple “anchors” at any one time. Committing your entire weight to a single branch without having extra holds on the tree is not a good idea. For example, if you’re standing with both feet on the same branch, you should simultaneously be using your hands to hold onto another branch that you could dangle from if the first branch were to break.
If your child climbs higher than you’re comfortable with, call out and have him stop at that height. On the other hand, many children are nervous of going too high, so please don’t ever push him to climb higher than he wants to – it’s the experience that counts, not the height he reaches!
If your child progresses to climbing tall trees, it’s a good idea to have him wear a hard hat – just in case.
Many children enjoy simply sitting in a tree, enjoying the view, and getting that close-to-nature feeling that is so sadly lacking in many kids’ lives today. A familiar tree that a child feels safe climbing can be a wonderfully peaceful place to escape from grown-ups and be alone.
Animal lovers will enjoy looking for birds and squirrels, which may get accustomed to you and come quite close, if you sit very quietly.
Some kids will be keen to build tree-houses or make other ‘modifications’, so be sure to teach your kids the importance of respecting the tree as a living being. For families fortunate enough to have a tree in the garden that is suitable for a tree house, this would be a great project for kids and adults to work on together. The best way to build a tree house without harming the tree is to have a structure that rests on the ground, using the tree itself only for secondary support, and without hammering any nails into the living tree.Getting Down!
Usually it is safest to climb down facing the trunk. Your child should always be sure of his next foothold before letting go with his uppermost hand. As with climbing up, try to have four different contact points with the tree as you progress downwards.
Some children get scared coming down, even though they were perfectly okay going up. If this happens, try to have your child take a breather and relax while in a safe spot. Then encourage him to look at the tree and his hands and feet, rather than downwards. Calmly talk him through one step at a time, reassuring him that you are there to help. Most of the time, if your child was able to climb up, he’ll be successful at climbing down, and will just need some reassurance and encouragement.
Taking it Further…
If your child gets enthusiastic about tree climbing, he might like to progress to climbing with ropes. The basic technique usually involves the use of a harness, a double rope thrown over a branch, and knots. Care with regard to equipment safety is vital, as your child will be entrusting his weight to the rope and harness rather than directly holding onto the tree. Professional tree-climbing training courses can be a great way to get into this activity as a hobby.