Updated: Aug 16, 2022
OUR NEED TO CLIMB
I have felt the pang of guilt putting my 15-month-old in front of the telly with Baby Shark playing on repeat so I can drink my coffee before it gets too cold. If you know, you know. It’s sometimes necessary. And while that particular pastime can buy a parent a moment of peace and is certainly entertaining for a child, as she walks and runs and scrambles onto more and more furniture of varying heights, I know she wants to be active and is pushed by something inside to scale and climb.
It’s not just her genes either, all kids do this, from a very young age all the way through to their teens and onto adulthood, humans have always yearned to climb. We need to see the view from up there, and we find a way…
It’s no wonder climbing and bouldering gyms and crags, while sometimes a solitary and somewhat pensive place for adults, have become a great place for kids and teens to spend time before and after school and on weekends – they’re driven to do it, and it’s fun at the same time. Climbing and bouldering builds confidence, problem solving, strength, flexibility and coordination.
I’ve done the research below for you to check out, and I’ll be introducing my kid to climbing and bouldering as soon as she’s ready – until that time, she’ll scale the heights of El Couch Capitan, Half Dome Dad and Le Petit Playground Equipment Dru.
BENEFITS FOR BRAINS AND BODIES
Regardless of whether your kid is on the path to the 2024 Olympics or is just looking to do something physical which is mindful at the same time, bouldering and climbing have a multitude of benefits for their brain and body. You can start young (Ashima Shiraishi started at 6, and by the age of 15 become the youngest person and first woman to climb V15!) or as an adult. The great thing about this sport is you climb to your own pace and skills, which will build overtime regardless of age or fitness level.
CONFIDENCE AND SELF-ESTEEM
You’ll probably notice this truly crucial benefit of climbing well before fitness and coordination levels pick up: confidence, self-esteem and independence. Anything from a small climbing pikler for a toddler, to monkey bars for a primary age student, to hitting the walls in a gym or the outdoors: climbing and bouldering triggers the receptors in the brain when kids experience the feeling of taking charge and overcoming the challenge of a climb all by themselves. This happens especially when they have to try several times to achieve the top or have a fear of heights: the mental exertion and battle to overcome fear, followed by achievement, will build their confidence and self esteem in their other areas of life where they face struggles. It truly is persistence in the face of adversity, and that’s something everyone can use a little bit of!
Planning a problem out from the mats with a friend, parent or coach is one thing, but once you’re up there you complete that route on your own. Bouldering particularly, without the literal safety net of a rope, teaches kids how to keep their minds clear and calm while moving their body through space. You become accountable for your actions and utilise your mind and body to overcome challenges.
STRENGTH, FITNESS AND FLEXIBILITY
Climbing utilises your whole body which makes it great for overall fitness and physical endurance as well as burning that extra energy all kids have. You exercise your core, legs, arms and even tiny muscles in your hands and fingers as well as employing muscles to stabilise and balance yourself.
Musculoskeletal tissue is strengthened when you climb, so the more you do it, the stronger your bones, muscles and joints get – anyone over 30 will add right now that this would be a great thing to start doing as early as possible! On that, because it is cardiovascular exercise, your heart and lungs get the prime benefit here, perfect for the generation who were born with iPhones in hand.
I’m not racing to take my daughter to dance or gymnastics classes, so bouldering and climbing is the perfect alternative to keep flexibility and coordination skills up and strong as she grows and thrives. Child-like flexibility can be carried into adulthood when it is utilised from a young age and throughout your teens. This can also be an indicator of longer lifespan as your circulation and blood flow is better when your flexibility remains strong.
COORDINATION AND MOTOR SKILLS
Kids won’t be missing out on honing their hand, foot and eye coordination by taking up a sport which doesn’t use any balls, so you can put that worry out of your mind right now. Being a full body activity which uses every major muscle group means it also requires high levels of concentration. Problems need to be evaluated before any movements are made, so your child will become more aware of their own body and movement down to every finger. Spacial and directional awareness will grow as they try harder and harder problems and along with overarching balance, fine motor skills will be tested at every step and hold.
PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS
The mental map you make when climbing is as important as where you place your hands and feet. The best route will conserve energy and get you to the top in the most controlled way. Navigating this way boosts a child’s problem solving skills which can be transferred into many other areas of life. These skills used on the wall build up a child’s development of working memory and visualisation skills. The same skills are used when a child does a puzzle or plays a memory game. Except when climbing, they’re also engaging in cardiovascular exercise.
MINDFULNESS AND FOCUS
Cognitive development in children is linked to their motor skills and physical development. Rock climbing and bouldering improves learning, memory, focus and attention. In our world of screens and frenzied imagery everywhere we go, no wonder it’s difficult for children to focus on one task or be aware and attentive of what’s happening in front of them at any given time. Better focus will lead to lower risk of anxiety and depression as it carries over to home and school life which will be more meaningful when a child can centre their focus on tasks (including imaginative play).
Calming the inner storm isn’t just important for adults as children can definitely suffer from stress, just as we do. Climbing is a fantastic distracting activity for an unfocused, anxious, stressed or depressed child as it utilises the whole body and mind. This activity can calm and refresh as it brings focus back from a muddled mind.
Bouldering is more often than not a solitary endeavour for adults; even when you have a mate offering beta and encouragement, it’s you and the wall. For kids, when they climb with a team, school group or family members, it’s an incredibly social undertaking and boosts the fundamental skills of team work which are needed in most aspects of life. Analysing problems on the wall with a friend or simply enjoying the activity together is a communicative and positive experience for all involved.
Learning how to explain beta to a friend on the wall and give suggestions and descriptions will boost communication, leadership and listening skills early and emphasise the importance of teamwork.
AT BOULDER PROJECT
At Boulder Project we welcome climbers from the age of 10 and encourage family groups to come in and experience the many benefits of bouldering as listed above! We run special Beginner and Kid’s Classes every week as well as offer private school group bookings for primary and secondary school age students.
Brains and bodies get strengthened at Boulder Project!
Not a doctor. Or physiologist. But a researcher, a climber and a mum, so you know… the info is solid.