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by Lisa Werkmeister
Our family is not naturally competitive. Unless it’s Wii Sports or Mario Kart, we tend to think in terms of cooperative play rather than trying to beat someone else at a specific skill or sport. Even during activities where competition is part of the game, we make a point to appreciate the spirit of teamwork so everybody can have a good time.
When it comes to joining sports, my kids gravitate toward individual activities like horseback riding and swimming, so we are always looking for new things to try out.
When we found out about a new indoor rock-climbing gym, we figured it would be right up our alley. We signed up for an appointment online, took a simple safety course, and 15 minutes later my kids were making their way up the wall.
Rock climbing gyms are becoming more prevalent around the country, particularly in nature-loving communities where an indoor gym is a natural precursor to outdoor climbing adventures. They have also started popping up in urban areas where the only other climbing option is the closest tall building.
If you’re curious about rock climbing but don’t know where to start, keep these tips in mind before you let your kids make their first climb.
What are the benefits?
The first thing your kids will notice is that rock climbing is a great workout. It engages the whole body. Kids use arms to pull, legs to push and core strength to maintain balance. Frequent rock climbing can increase stamina and flexibility, all while kids are having fun.
Rock climbing has proven especially helpful for children with disabilities. Studies show it can improve hand-eye coordination and increase fine motor skill in children who struggle to learn these abilities naturally.
It has a positive impact on mental health as well. Rock climbing provides a great boost of confidence for kids. I’ve spent a lot of time rewatching the videos of my kids ringing the bell on the wall the first time they made it to the top. There was nervousness when they started climbing, fear when they made it halfway and a great big smile when they finally hit the mark.
In many gyms, there’s a community element to climbing. The gym we went to was holding classes, and veteran climbers were making their way across an advanced course. When my kids hit the bell at the top, the belayer on the floor yelled, “First time!” and everyone with hands free broke into applause or whistled their congratulations. There’s nothing like a supportive environment to make kids feel confident about what they’re doing.
Rock climbing has also proven beneficial for some children with autism and ADHD, and for those who struggle to focus on a task. Combining a challenging physical activity that engages the senses along with an interesting task that requires concentration can give your kids the best of both worlds. The full-body workout gives many kids the sensory relief they need so they can focus on something they enjoy.
How safe is it?
There are safety risks in any type of physical activity, but rock climbing can be safe for children as young as 4 years old if the proper precautions are taken.
Starting out at a climbing gym rather than heading to your nearest mountain may be the safest method for your kids if you aren’t an experienced climber yourself. Our first safety course as a family was short and sweet, but it took us through everything we needed to know while in a controlled environment, under the watchful eye of expert employees.
The kids learned all about:
As for outdoor climbing, you may want to wait until you and your kids have some experience under your belt before hitting the rocks. While it can be done safely and is a lot of fun, it is a bit riskier than an indoor gym. However, it’s the training and experience, not the location, that make the biggest difference in safe climbing.
Where to start
There are different schools of thought about the best way to learn rock climbing. Our family chose the rock-climbing gym route, simply because my husband and I had no experience in the sport and we wanted to learn along with our kids. A controlled environment provided an extra safety net and gave a good foundation in the basics of climbing before we chose to move outside.
It also allowed us the chance to try out the gear and figure out what we needed before we bought our own. I discovered that I did not, in fact, need everything in the rock-climbing section of the sporting goods store. Participating in the activity gave me a chance to see what was necessary, and what wasn’t.
Take your kids’ personalities and your own experience with rock climbing into account when you make a decision about where to start your rock climbing journey. If you have the right gear, the right training and the confidence and patience it takes to teach, then head out to real rock for an adventure.
Whatever you choose, don’t let fear of the unknown prevent your kids from making that first climb. Done safely, and with proper support and encouragement, your kids may discover that rock climbing is their new favorite hobby.
Lisa Werkmeister is a freelance writer and editor. She lives on a small farm with her husband and two children.