“Look, Mrs. Debbie, do you know how I got up this high?”
“That’s amazing, please tell me.”
“Mrs. Stacy taught me how, she just told me to keep trying. And I did.”
I have so many of these stories of children feeling a huge sense of pride and accomplishment after climbing high up into the branches of a tree on our school playground. At our school, tree climbing is encouraged. Sure- a teacher is always nearby, but it is an independent activity that encourages problem solving, building muscle strength (especially one’s core) improves balance, spatial awareness, and proprioception (the awareness in your body’s position and movement, sometimes called the sixth sense).
My favorite tree climbing story is when a little girl, Millie, really wanted to climb the tree. She just couldn’t get to the first branch to get started. She tried and tried and was getting frustrated – she just needed a few more inches of height to get her foot to the starting point. She asked me for help. Instead of lifting her up, I suggested she look around for something she could use as a “helper step.” She did- she found a crate. She ran to get it, dragged it over to the base of the tree, stepped onto the crate, but it wobbled. She got down moved the crate around until it didn’t wobble, and then stepped on the crate again, and then stepped up to the lowest branch! She was so proud!
“Send a picture to my Mommy!”
I did, of course!
This happened again with another friend of mine, Lynley. She wanted help, but instead I suggested looking for a boost – she used a nearby tire to help her up. What problem solving! This independence builds confidence, and encourages that growth mindset- I CAN DO IT! When children climb trees, they gain a birds-eye view of the world and the thrilling feeling of I did it!.
As children climb trees, they are building muscle strength and practicing gross motor skills such as balance, building core strength, body awareness and proprioception – all necessary developmental skills that seem to be ignored often now as children aren’t playing outside as much as they once did. According to Child’s Play Therapy Center, “poor core strength can cause poor posture which can also affect gross motor and fine motor skills. Building strong core strength is like building a strong foundation for your child.”
Parents or teachers may be reluctant to let children climb trees as they may feel that injury is likely to occur- it’s just too risky! But risk-taking increases the resilience of children, and it helps them make judgments. Millie made the choice to move the crate to make her first step steady. As children climb trees, they make choices. We should allow our children to take physical risk because, within reason, that is the way that they learn. In risky play, youngsters dose themselves with manageable quantities of fear and practice keeping their heads and behaving adaptively while experiencing that fear. They learn that they can manage their fear, overcome it, and come out okay. Emotion regularity!
I have observed that children seem to know when to stop themselves from going too high, or when a branch feels unsteady. They are learning to make these small choices for themselves – problem solving leading to growth. And they seem to know when they are ready to push themselves a little bit more. I have watched some learn how to flip over the branches, or jump from up high. Let them experience all these joys!
Let them climb!