The surprising benefits of climbing for kids

Girl on kids climbing wall

Rock climbing is a fun and dynamic sport with a rich history that goes back centuries. While it was initially something explorers learned to do out of necessity, it grew in popularity as a sport as far back as the 1900s. In Canada, the Canadian Pacific Railway brought Swiss mountaineering guides to British Columbia’s Glacier National Park to promote tourism in the area as far back as 1899! With the advances in technology and safety equipment today, climbing has become more accessible to people of all skill levels, and has become increasingly popular, with climbing gyms and outdoor climbing areas popping up in cities and towns worldwide. 

One of the reasons for the sport's growing popularity is the many physical and mental benefits it provides. Climbing is an excellent form of exercise that builds strength, endurance, balance, and coordination, and at the same time, also helps develop problem-solving skills, communication skills, and mental focus. It’s an incredibly inclusive sport, which caters to people of all ages, genders, and skill levels, and is supported by a strong community centered around teamwork and camaraderie.  


Physical benefits 

Numerous studies (like this one from the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine) have found that rock climbing can help build strength across the entire body, improve balance and coordination, and enhance spatial and directional awareness in children and youth. 

One of the most significant physical benefits of rock climbing is the way it builds strength across the entire body. Climbing involves using a variety of muscle groups, including the arms, shoulders, back, core, and legs, which all need to work together to help climbers up the wall. This exercise is perfect for children and toddlers to develop strength and endurance across their entire body. 

In addition to building strength, climbing also improves balance and coordination in an intuitive manner. In fact, you may have noticed that your kids start wanting to climb all on their own! This is because climbing is a natural progression from crawling and walking, as toddlers continue to explore their mobility and capabilities. All you need to do is make sure that they do so safely. 

Finally, children will also build upon their spatial and directional awareness. This can be challenging at first, as climbing requires a stronger understanding of their own bodies, and where they are in relation to their environment, compared to crawling or walking. 

Overall, rock climbing is an excellent sport for promoting physical activity and providing numerous physical benefits for children. It can help build strength across the entire body, improve balance and coordination, and enhance spatial and directional awareness. 


Cognitive benefits 

Climbing is not only great for physical development, but can also provide a range of cognitive benefits as well. Specifically, research has found that climbing can help develop problem-solving and communication skills, and even lead to improved academic performance. 

Problem-solving and mental flexibility are crucial skills for climbing. In order to reach the top of a climbing wall, climbers must constantly think about the next step, and continuously adapt their approach. As kids become better climbers, they can also be introduced to more difficult climbs that push them to plan ahead. By practicing these skills, children can develop transferable skills that are applicable to many other aspects of their lives. 

Communication is another essential skill in rock climbing. Getting stuck, tired, or nervous are all common occurrences when climbing. Children will learn to communicate their thoughts as they improve, and get better and better in both identifying and expressing how they feel to get the support they need. 

Research conducted by the Illinois Public Health Institute has shown that climbing can lead to improved academic performance. In Naperville Central High School, students who participated in a climbing program showed improvements in academic performance, attendance, and behavior. Students who participated in the program consistently performed better on both reading and math assessments, suggesting that climbing can have measurable benefits on the brain. 

Overall, climbing can have a range of cognitive benefits for children, including the development of problem-solving and communication skills, and even improved academic performance. By providing a fun and challenging activity that promotes physical and mental well-being, climbing can be a valuable addition to a child's life. 


Emotional benefits 

Last but certainly not least, climbing has been associated with many emotional benefits as well, such as helping kids build self-confidence and self-esteem, get used to trying again after failure, and develop a greater level of trust in others. 

Climbing allows us to face a very natural and common fear: that of heights. Although the wall may look daunting at first, facing this challenge head on, and eventually reaching the top can help children develop a greater sense of self-confidence that will carry over into other areas of their lives.  

Falling is a central aspect of climbing. All climbers know that if you get into the sport, you will get used to falling – often. What this teaches our children is that failing is perfectly normal! That as long as they’re able to learn from the falls, and get back up and try again, eventually they will succeed. Learning this important lesson early on eventually leads to well-rounded and resilient kids.  

Contrary to what some may believe, climbing is a group activity. This is because safety is of the utmost importance, and you always climb with a buddy, who will support you if anything goes wrong. For children and toddlers, climbing under the supervision of parents can help them develop a deeper level of trust. It allows them to be a little bolder, and feel comfortable taking risks in controlled environments, knowing that mom and dad will support them if they ever start to fall. 

All in all, climbing can drive numerous aspects of children’s emotional development, including increasing self-confidence and self-esteem, learning to overcome failure, and trusting others. 


Sign me up! How do I get my kids started? 

Kids of any age can get started with climbing, and there are many ways to do so!

Check out how to build your own rock climbing wall at home here. So many people have asked me about where I got my kids climbing wall that I launched Lil Boulder. Because everything is done by hand, I’m only able to make a couple of walls a month. But for those of you whose children love climbing, but don’t have the time to build a wall yourself, you can order one here. The joy that this kids climbing wall has brought to my family is truly priceless, and I love sharing it with others.

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