Tuesday, June 15, 2010

let them climb trees

To let them climb, or not to let them climb?

Think back to your own childhood.

Did you climb trees?  I bet you did.  Climbing trees is an activity that seems synonymous with childhood.

For today's children the reality is very different.  There has been a worrying and dramatic shift from outdoor play to indoor play in the space of just one generation.

A 2012 Australian study from Planet Ark found that 25% of carers said the children in their care
have never climbed a tree.  A 2007 study from Play England reports that half of all children in Britain have been stopped from climbing trees.

Why does this matter?

Childhood is a time where kids gain mastery over their world through play. 

Facing and conquering the challenges of the natural world: climbing trees, balancing on logs, swinging from branches and climbing over rocks are all ways that children develop competence, resilience and a sense of "I can do it".

Of course there are going to be bumps and bruises along the way. But if we take away the physical challenges offered by the natural world in the name of safety, what will be achieved?  

In Let Them Climb Trees, a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, author of Last Child in the Woods Richard Louv talks of the very real damage caused when we stop our kids from experiencing the natural world and shield them from adventures in the great outdoors.

Time spent playing in the natural world has a significant impact on:

physical well-being
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
learning ability
mental, psychological and spiritual health

The Cotton Wool Generation

It seems that our tendency to want to wrap children in cotton wool is transforming how they are experiencing childhood:

Children are not being allowed many of the freedoms that were taken for granted when we were children. They are not enjoying the opportunities to play outside that most people would have thought of as normal when they were growing up.
- Adrian Voce - Play England

We might avoid a bump or too, but at what cost?


  1. My grandparents had an awesome climbing tree in their front yard when I was growing up, all of the children loved it. And I fell out of it many, many times :)

  2. I think we should lead by example. I make a point of climbing any half decent tree. My dog hates me for it. But it's a lovely form of exercise. Perhaps we need a World Tree Climbing Day!!!

  3. A tree is optimal, but climbing is the key to all the good outcomes.


  4. When I was in college there was a huge old tree in front of the library. For some reason we had the idea that climbing it wasn't permitted (we may or may not have been right about this) and made a plan to secretly climb it one evening. There were 4 of us and we quietly climbed as high as we could go only to find that when we got to the top there were already people up there!

    There are quiet a few tree climbing exercise enthusiasts -- at Juliet is suggesting -- in this area. It's sort of a low tech spin-off of rock climbing.

  5. We loved playing in trees when I was a kid - so many tree houses complete with hot water and pulley systems. I'd never even thought of letting Erin climb a tree though. We don't even have trees she'd be able to climb around here! Yeah, we live in one of those complexes :?