Tree climbing is an outside activity for kids that has many benefits for the developing child.
Most children love recreational tree climbing and the challenge and adventure of climbing trees in the natural world. Not only is climbing trees a great exercise, but tree climbing also has several educational benefits for the developing child. First, learn 15 reasons to climb a tree. Next, read through the necessary instructions for climbing a tree, how to support your children as they learn to climb trees, and safety tips to help them while tree climbing. And finally, scroll down to learn more about the benefits of climbing trees and other benefits of risky play.
Tree Climbing Exploration
Do you have any prior experience with tree climbing? Did you climb trees when you were a child?
I spent my childhood engaging in risky recreational activities with my three brothers–and one of our favorites was climbing trees. When I was a child, I felt the benefits of these risk-taking activities cumulate in a sense of strength and confidence.
As an early childhood educator and junior lifeguard instructor, I encouraged and supported the children in my care to take manageable risks to learn to trust themselves as I had.
Now that I am a parent, I strive to encourage and support risky play activities to help my child develop and grow into a well-rounded human being who is in touch with her strength, limitations, and, most importantly, her sense of self.
15 Reasons to Climb a Tree
Tree climbing is a risky play activity with several benefits for the developing child. We hope you agree that the thrill of climbing trees and the many benefits of a tree climbing experience far outweighs the fear of climbing and its inherent risks. Look at the list below to learn 15 reasons to climb a tree!
- Climbing trees can help develop physical strength.
- Tree climbing helps develop focus and concentration.
- Climbing trees can boost self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Tree climbing is an excellent gross motor activity for physical development.
- Climbing trees can help children become more flexible in body and mind.
- When you climb trees, you form more complex neural networks in the brain.
- Tree climbing helps develop a resilient “I can do it” attitude.
- Climbing trees helps children become problem solvers.
- Tree climbing helps us develop a better connection with ourselves.
- Climbing trees provides a rich sensory experience for the developing child.
- Tree climbing helps us learn to think for ourselves and feel confident about our choices.
- Climbing a tree can help develop strong spatial reasoning skills.
- Tree climbing is a great way to strengthen the mind and the will.
- Climbing trees helps us connect with nature.
- You get a great view!
How to Support Your Children As They Climb Trees
When your child starts to swing from tree limbs and try to climb trees, this is usually an indication of readiness.
Invite your children to start with small “easy” trees to climb and progress as they gain mastery. Support your child’s first efforts, then step back and allow them to do it independently.
If you ever feel unsafe about your child, ask, “Do you feel safe?” If they do not feel safe, assist them as calmly as possible.
When nerves get rattled, we tend to make mistakes.
Using the term “Do you feel safe?” is also a wonderful alternative to the response “Be careful.”
Asking a child if they feel safe when we feel unsafe helps us all feel a lot better whether our children are just learning to climb or 40 feet up a tree!
My daughter is an excellent climber. Can you find her in the tree in the photograph below? Don’t worry–It took me a minute too!
As I was sweeping the porch one day, I looked up in search of my daughter. She must have been watching me because I soon heard, “Hey, mom… Can you see me?
After I looked around for a minute, I replied, “No, where are you?” To which she excitedly replied, “Up in the tree!”
I looked up, and up, and up, and wouldn’t you know it, there she was, 40 feet up the 50-foot magnolia tree in our front yard! (You can see her in the photograph above.)
My heart raced as I calmed myself and walked towards the tall tree she was in. As my eyes climbed up the tree to meet hers, I took a deep breath and asked, “Do you feel safe?”
“Yes, she said with a chirp, “I can see the whole wide world from up here!” Imagine how different her response would have been if I said, “Be careful!”
Related: How to Raise a Helper
How to Climb a Tree
Tree climbing is a great experience and fun outdoor adventure for young and old alike. First, head to your local nature center or out into the woods with some snacks to climb trees if you don’t have one in your front or backyard. Next, encourage your child to learn to climb a tree in their own unique way with the easy tree climbing instruction tips below:
- Wait until your child shows that they are ready to climb a tree, and encourage kids to go at their own pace. Never push force, or coax a child to climb a tree.
- Start with small healthy trees with stiff limbs that are easy to climb. Make sure the tree branches do not bend under the child’s weight.
- Support and guide your child. Once they gain a little confidence, you can allow your child to do it independently as he or she gains mastery.
- Hands and arms are for grabbing, guiding, and reaching for tree limbs, while feet and legs are for pushing and climbing.
- Encourage your child always to have at least one “stronghold.” In other words, always have one hand or foot positioned in a way that helps your child feel safe and secure in the tree.
- Teach your children not to move or climb higher unless they feel safe and secure in the tree.
- Practice descending the tree or climbing down before climbing higher. Descending and getting down from a tree is often harder than climbing up!
- Get out of the way and allow children to find mastery. There comes the point when every parent needs to trust their child to do it on their own. Step back and bask in the development of your child’s growing self-confidence as they master vertical climbs.
- Whenever you feel unsafe about your child, calmly ask, “Do you feel safe?” Help if needed.
- Ask your children to wear a helmet (or gloves if the bark is rough) until they gain confidence the first few times they climb trees.
The First Tree Your Child Climbs
The first tree my daughter could climb was a small Japanese Maple Tree in our front yard at the time. She would stand at the bottom of it, arms reaching upward towards its limbs, and cry out in frustration until the day she finally figured out how to climb up into it.
Whenever she would ask for my help, I would calmly say, “If you can’t get up there yourself, you’re not ready to climb it yet.” I could see in her movements (I have a BS in Kinesiology) that she was not ready, and if I helped her, I would be limiting her ability to do it independently.
Finally, the day came when she figured out how to climb into the tree and get up the first section with only minimal guidance from me. I stayed close and offered my support as needed until it became visible that she was gaining comfort and confidence in the tree moving around.
At that point, I sat down and took pictures. Just look at her smiling face… Sweet success for both mother and child. There is nothing more rewarding than watching your child develop mastery and gain confidence on their own.
The photo above was taken the moment after my daughter climbed this tree for the very first time–and I felt comfortable enough to step back and take a photo.
“Look, Mom! I made it to the top.” The photo below was taken the next day.
What is the Purpose of Tree Climbing? Why is Tree Climbing Important?
Tree climbing is a risky play activity with many benefits for the developing child. Kids love the recreation and challenge of climbing trees and reaching new heights. The physical challenge boosts a child’s self-esteem and the feeling of accomplishment.
There is also a mental challenge to climbing trees. Focusing on “solving the problem” of how to get up the tree creates a resilient “I can do it” attitude when faced with both mental and physical problems in the future.
What are The Benefits of Climbing Trees? Why is it Good for Kids to Climb Trees?
Some researchers in Florida have measured the cognitive benefits of risky activities like tree climbing. They found that using your mind to navigate through the tree and operate your hands and muscles while climbing tremendously benefits your cognitive abilities. The improvement in working memory is one of the skills they measured to have marked improvement. source
Benefits of Tree climbing:
- hand-eye coordination
- spatial reasoning
- physical strength
- mental strength
- gross motor abilities
- new neural pathways in the brain
- emotional intelligence
- cognitive skills
Related: Hug a Tree
Benefits of Tree Climbing and Other Risky Play Activities
Risky play activities such as climbing trees, walking across logs and fallen trees, and bouldering can be dangerous, but there are many benefits to children that engage in risky play. Daily small manageable risks add up to big gains in a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence over time.
Taking risks in play is essential for children’s growth and development. Risky play can help children learn their strengths and weaknesses, become more aware of their limitations, and help them learn how to take care of themselves.
Learn more about Rhythms of Play.
Additional Resources on the Benefits of Risky Play
- Risky Play: Why Children Love It and Need It by Peter Gray, Ph.D. on Psychology Today
- Outdoor Risky Play for All from Outdoor Learning in the Early Years
- Risky Play Prepares Kids for Life by Adrian Voce on The Guardian