There are lots of reasons to encourage kids to climb trees, but many of them can begin to seem unimportant when faced with the possibility of our beloved child falling out of one. Besides the fact that kids just love it, here are my top five reasons, backed by science, to support tree climbing despite its inherent risks.
1) Being Outside Reduces Stress
Many studies over the past 20 years have shown that spending time in nature reduces cortisol levels, lowers blood pressure, increases resilience, and supports cognitive function. And climbing trees is a great way to help kids engage in an outside activity that is fun and challenging.
By encouraging this type of outdoor play and discovery, you’re putting your child into an environment that she has evolved to enjoy and appreciate.
2) Connecting With Nature Is Good For Us and the Planet
Helping your child develop a personal relationship with nature has lots of benefits both to your child and to the environment. We humans are funny. When we care about something deeply, we’ll work incredibly hard to preserve it. So, by helping your child connect with nature, he is better off because of all of the benefits mentioned above and the environment is better off because your child will work hard to preserve the nature he loves so dearly.
Working with children showed me that when kids understand the direct implications of their impact on the environment, they’re motivated to reduce their carbon footprint and are easily able to change their habits to live in more harmony with nature. For instance, after learning about landfills, many children become recycling activists in their homes and schools. And after a trip to a local water treatment facility where we got to engage in hands on demonstrations, I saw a marked improvement in water conservation efforts and interest in overall watershed health.
3) Climbing Trees is Good for Physical Development
As I began to write this article I spoke to a local 7 year-old boy. I asked him, “what’s your favorite thing about climbing trees?” and he responded immediately, “Climbing!” Kids love the challenge of deciding where to put their feet and hands, and the exhilaration of getting high up into a tree. There’s a physical challenge and a huge sense of accomplishment that goes along with tree climbing. I wish more kids were encouraged to climb trees.
Developing hand/eye coordination, muscle strength, and the ability to assess their own safety are all skills that benefit kids. And they’re the same skills that are often found lacking in today’s screen focused world.
4) Taking Risks Helps Kids Learn Their Strengths and Limitations
By challenging themselves physically, kids learn their strengths and limitations quickly. They know when it’s easy, when it’s hard, and when they start to feel unsafe. It’s important for children to have the experience of pushing themselves and knowing when to step back and play it safe. You may be surprised to find that children have quite a strong sense of self-preservation when they’re allowed to exercise it.
Yes, this does require us to step back, stop saying, “be careful!” and allow our kids to explore without us hovering and monitoring their every move. I know it can be difficult, and if you really have a tough time with it, I’d recommend sending the kids out with their dad (or other masculine role model). I’ve found that in general dads are much better at letting kids take physical risks than moms are.
Even so, it’s still important to develop this ability for yourself, mom. Eventually we’re going to have teenagers on our hands and if we don’t allow our kids to take calculated risks now, they won’t be prepared for the life and death decisions they’ll be required to make once drinking and driving enter into the picture.
5) Spending Time in Nature Encourages Scientific Discovery
Are your kids curious about birds, bees, squirrels, and raccoons? Spending time outside climbing trees is a wonderful way to encourage scientific interests. Maybe they’ll discover a next and get to watch baby birds being fed by their parents. Or perhaps they’ll discover a new species of beetle, never before catalogued.
By encouraging kids to climb trees, you’re really encouraging them to explore the natural world in all it’s glory. How does a plant grow? Where does a tree get its nutrients? What does decomposition look like? And what happens if a bird’s nest is disturbed?
Children are natural scientists and will create experiments, hypotheses, and conclusions about everything in life. Why not encourage them to conduct some of their research in the canopy?
So, let’s all go out and climb a tree! And let’s make sure our kids get the opportunity to spend time outdoors, climbing trees, playing, making up songs and stories, coming up with wild theories, and just forging a relationship with this wonderful, wild, beautiful world we live in.
Have a great week, Shelly