Everything You Need to Know About Indoor Rock Climbing for Kids

Everything you need to know about rock climbing for kids

Do your kids love being active, and have so much energy they’re jumping off the walls? Do you find them climbing on every piece of furniture around the house, and every tree they pass by outside? If so, you might have already considered nurturing their interests through rock climbing! In this guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about introducing your kids to rock climbing, from important safety considerations to the incredible benefits that rock climbing can bring. Get ready to ignite their passion for adventure and watch them soar to new heights!

 Little girl climbing her Lil Boulder kids home climbing wall


Purpose of the guide

The purpose of this guide is to provide you with everything you need to know about indoor rock climbing for kids. We hope to equip you with the knowledge and resources to introduce your kids to the world of climbing in a safe and fun way! From understanding the basics of rock climbing to exploring its benefits, and safety considerations, we hope you find the information in this guide as valuable reference as you and your kids take your first steps into the exhilarating world of rock climbing!


What is rock climbing?

Rock climbing is a challenging and exhilarating sport that involves climbing natural or artificial rock formations using specialized techniques and equipment. It requires physical strength, mental focus, problem-solving skills, and a sense of courage and adventure. It can be done both indoors along preplanned routes, or “problems”, or outdoors on natural rock formations. In indoor rock climbing, kids can experience the thrill and excitement of climbing in a more controlled environment. Outdoor rock climbing is typically for more advanced climbers who have already honed their skills, and have a firm grasp on the use of important safety equipment, and climbing techniques.

Indoor rock climbing has gained immense popularity among kids in recent years. It offers a unique and engaging way for children to explore what their bodies are capable of, while at the same time providing a fun outlet to satisfy their urge to climb! As the sport has become more and more popular, it has also become easier than ever to find indoor climbing gyms and dedicated kids' climbing areas. Getting started climbing has truly never been as accessible as today.


Types of Climbing

When you hear “rock climbing,” the image that comes your mind first is probably one of people dangling off of ropes on the side of a mountain. But did you know that there are actually many, many different disciplines of rock climbing?

  1. Bouldering:
    Bouldering is a form of climbing done on lower walls without the use of ropes or harnesses. It focuses on coordination, balance, strength, and problem-solving. This style of climbing allows kids to explore movement freely and develop their climbing skills at their own pace. It’s the most straightforward, and requires the least equipment – at climbing gyms, all you need are a pair of climbing shoes, and at home, many kids choose to climb barefoot! Just make sure you have a crash mat to provide a soft landing for small falls.

Little boy bouldering on rock climbing wall

  1. Lead climbing: 
    Lead climbing involves ascending taller walls or rock faces with the use of ropes, harnesses, and generally, a climbing partner. The first climber, referred to as the lead climber, clips the rope into protection points (typically bolts) along the wall, while their partner, known as the belayer, manages the rope's slack, ensuring a safe catch in the event of a fall. This style of climbing introduces kids to rope management, communication, and trust in their belaying partner. Auto-belay systems are an alternative to traditional lead climbing and eliminate the need for a belayer. The auto-belay device takes up the slack in the rope as the climber ascends and provides a controlled descent if they fall or let go. Auto-belays are user-friendly and allow kids to climb independently, gaining confidence and freedom in their climbing experience. In general, lead climbing is slightly more involved than bouldering, and we would recommend it for slightly older, more experienced kid climbers.

Little boy lead climbing on indoor rock climbing wall

  1. Other types of climbing
    If your kids really fall in love with the sport, they might become interested in other climbing disciplines as well, like speed climbing, or even traditional climbing.

    Speed climbing involves racing against the clock to ascend one internationally standard route as quickly as possible. It requires agility, power, and efficient climbing movements. In professional settings, you’ll see climbers ascend 15m of wall in around 5 seconds, seeming to fly! While speed climbing is an exciting and competitive aspect of the sport, it’s more commonly practiced at advanced levels and in specialized competitions rather than as a starting point for young climbers.

    Finally, traditional climbing, also known as trad climbing, is a style of climbing where climbers place removable protection, such as cams and nuts, into cracks or fissures in the rock as anchor points to protect against falls. Trad climbing is typically practiced outdoors on natural rock formations, requiring advanced skills and experience. It is not recommended for young children just starting out on their climbing journeys.

Trad climbing outdoors on rock structure

Benefits of indoor rock climbing for children

Indoor rock climbing for kids is not only fun – it also provides a host of benefits for their physical, mental, and social development. These benefits go beyond mere physical exercise and can extend into various aspects of their lives. See the summary below, or read our blog about “The surprising benefits of climbing for kids” to learn more.

  • Physical fitness
    Rock climbing is a full-body workout that engages major muscle groups, promoting overall physical strength, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness. It helps kids develop muscular strength, and flexibility.

  • Motor skills development
    Climbing requires coordinated movements and precise footwork, enhancing children's balance, coordination, and fine motor skills. You don’t need to be the tallest, or the most muscular to be good at climbing, so long as you’ve developed a strong understanding of your body. By navigating various holds, obstacles and problems, kids improve their body awareness and proprioception.

  • Problem-solving skills
    Climbing problems present challenges that require critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Kids learn to analyze the problem, make hypotheses on the best approach, strategize their movements, and adapt. Climbing is especially good for engaging kids in tactile learning, and provides them with immediate feedback on whether the solutions they imagined work in reality. This enhances their cognitive skills, spatial awareness, and mental agility.

  • Focus and concentration
    Climbing demands full attention and concentration. In today’s digital world, kids are constantly being bombarded with short-form content that can lead to short attention spans. While rock climbing, however, kids are forced to block out distractions, and focus on their movements and the task in front of them. This can enhance their ability to concentrate and improve their ability to focus.

  • Overcoming fears and building confidence
    Indoor rock climbing offers controlled opportunities for kids to face and overcome their fears. As they challenge themselves to conquer higher walls, more difficult routes, and uncertain transitions, they build self-confidence, resilience, and an understanding that it’s okay to fall. Overcoming physical and mental obstacles is a highly transferrable skill, and can lead to better-adjusted, more resilient kids overall.

  • Teamwork and communication
    Climbing can be done individually or in pairs, fostering teamwork and effective communication. Kids learn to trust their climbing partners, rely on each other for support, and communicate effectively to ensure a smooth, safe, and successful climbing experience. The adrenaline that accompanies riskier activities like climbing can often lead to stronger bonds, that can form more quickly as well. Rock climbers are known to be a very supportive and inclusive community, and climbing can help kids build key interpersonal skills.

 Little boy rock climbing

Questions You May Have Before Getting Your Kids into Climbing

  1. When should my kids start rock climbing?
    The ideal age to start indoor rock climbing can vary depending on your child's physical abilities. But generally, children as young as 3 or 4 years old can begin with simple climbing activities. See how comfortable your kids are with climbing first, and how advanced they are with motor skills, coordination, and the ability to follow instructions. If you have any doubts, consult with a climbing professional or an instructor who can provide individualized guidance based on your child. Check out our blog: “When should kids start climbing?” for some more guidelines on how kids’ climbing skills generally develop at various ages, or our “Kid Climbers Turned Pro” series to learn more about some of the most renowned climbers today, who began their journeys at just a few years old.
  1. Do my kids need certain skills and abilities before rock climbing
    While basic skills such as balance, coordination, and strength are beneficial for rock climbing, the sport itself helps children develop these skills over time. Kids with prior experience in activities like gymnastics, dance, or martial arts may have an advantage, but even those without any specific background can enjoy and excel in climbing. Indoor climbing routes are designed to accommodate a wide range of skill levels, allowing kids to start with easier routes and gradually progress as they develop their climbing skills.
  1. Is climbing safe for kids?
    Safety is paramount for climbers of all ages, but is especially important for young children. That being said, indoor rock climbing is probably a lot safer than you had imagined. If your kids are playing in playgrounds, they’re probably already used to falling from low heights, like on monkey bars, onto slightly padded surfaces like rubber mulch nuggets, wood mulch, or turf. Indoor bouldering will expose them to similar heights, but will generally have much more padding, like high density foam mats that are 3-5 inches thick. Here are some other important safety considerations to keep in mind:
    • Adult supervision: Children should always be supervised by responsible adults while climbing. An adult can provide guidance, monitor the child's movements, and ensure their safety throughout the climbing session.
    • Proper safety equipment: Ensure that your child is equipped with the necessary safety gear. The type of safety equipment needed will depend on the type of climbing – more on that later on, but you should also ensure that there are appropriate crash mats set up to cushion falls.
    • Follow facility rules: When climbing at a gym or facility, it's important to adhere to their safety rules and guidelines. Familiarize yourself with the facility's policies, such as age restrictions, belaying protocols, and climbing area rules.
    • Climbing techniques: Both children and adults should familiarize themselves with climbing techniques and safety practices. Perhaps one of the most important skills to know is how to fall safely. In short: stay loose, fall on your feet, bum or back, and avoid breaking your fall with your hands.

By prioritizing safety and following these considerations, you can provide a secure and enjoyable climbing experience for your child.

Toddler climbing kids climbing wall with supervision

Ways to Get Started Climbing

Now that you know about the benefits of climbing, and have familiarized yourself with important safety considerations, you’re probably wondering: how do I get my kids started climbing!? Here are some great options we’d recommend, depending on your circumstances:

  1. Climbing structures at playgrounds
    Climbing on playground structures are many kids’ first encounters with climbing (outside of climbing their cribs or the stairs at home!). These structures typically feature a variety of climbing elements such as ropes, ladders, and small walls. While they may not provide the same challenges as indoor climbing walls, they offer an opportunity for kids to explore basic climbing movements, build confidence in their physical abilities, and have fun in a playful environment. Seeing how well your child climbs these structures can be a great indicator to tell you whether they’re ready for more advanced options.

Little girl climbing on a structure in a playground

  1. Visiting a local climbing gym
    To experience the thrill and challenges of indoor rock climbing, consider taking your child to a local climbing gym or facility. These dedicated climbing spaces provide a controlled and supervised environment with specially designed climbing walls suitable for kids. Make sure you double check beforehand to ensure that your local climbing gym allows for kids! If they do, trained staff members should be available to guide and support your child as they embark on their climbing journey. Because indoor climbing routes are typically graded based on difficulty levels, your child can start with easier routes, and gradually progress to more challenging routes as their skills and confidence improve. The staff at the climbing gym should be able to provide guidance on suitable routes based on your child's age and climbing experience.

Kids at an indoor rock climbing gym

  1. Invest in an indoor kids climbing wall for your home
    If you know that your child loves climbing, but you can’t, or don’t like taking them to the climbing gym, a kids home climbing wall could be the perfect alternative. A well-designed kids home climbing wall makes a great centrepiece for any playroom, and a fun and unique addition to any home. Having a climbing wall at home can be a convenient option for your family, that will save you the commute, fees, and crowds of a public climbing gym.

Little girl bouldering on home rock climbing wall

If you’re considering an indoor kids climbing wall for your home, check out our beautifully designed, hand-crafted walls!


Details on Indoor Rock Climbing Safety Equipment and Skills

In order to participate in indoor rock climbing safely, it’s essential to have the right equipment, and skills. While your kids likely won’t be introduced to all the different types of safety equipment and skills initially, you may want to familiarize yourself with these terms anyway. 

  1. Equipment
    • Climbing shoes: Climbing shoes are designed with sticky rubber soles that provide better grip on climbing holds. They offer support, enhance sensitivity, and facilitate precise footwork. It's important to choose climbing shoes that fit snugly without causing discomfort or pain. Climbing gyms will require that everyone wear appropriate climbing shoes when climbing, and will generally have a range of sizes of climbing shoes for rent. Make sure you double check with your kids to ensure that they’re comfortable in climbing shoes before climbing! You may also want your kids to wear climbing shoes when climbing at home, though this is completely optional, and probably not necessary.

Rock climbing shoes

    • Harness: A climbing harness is a crucial piece of equipment for climbing taller that attaches to the climber's waist and legs, providing support and safety during climbing. Kids' climbing harnesses are designed to fit their smaller frames and should be properly adjusted and fastened to ensure a secure fit. Harnesses are essential for every type of climbing except bouldering.

Rock climbing harness

    • Helmet: A climbing helmet is essential for protecting the head from falling debris and potential impacts during climbing. It is particularly important for outdoor climbing, but is generally not required for indoor rock climbing.

Rock climbing helmet

    • Chalk bag: Chalk is used to keep the hands dry and increase grip when climbing. A chalk bag is a small pouch that attaches to the climber's harness, providing easy access to chalk during climbs. While chalk can be a helpful aid in climbing, it is completely optionally, and probably not necessary at lower levels.

Rock climbing chalk bag

  1. Skills
    • Falling technique: Falls are a natural part of climbing, and teaching kids how to fall properly is critical to reducing the risk of injury. Teach them to bend their knees upon impact, roll with the fall, and avoid reaching out to break the fall with their hands. Proper falling technique is especially important for bouldering, and practicing falling techniques on padded surfaces or crash pads can further reinforce this skill.

    • Down-climbing: Down-climbing is another crucial skill that kids should learn, especially important for bouldering. Teach them how to descend a route safely by reversing their movements and carefully placing their feet and hands on holds while maintaining control and balance. Down-climbing not only builds confidence but also reinforces the importance of control and technique.

    • Getting down using a belay: Learning how to descend using a belay system is an important skill in climbing, used for getting down from taller walls (i.e., for most disciplines of climbing except bouldering). This may be scary for some kids at first, since they will need to push off of the walls, and trust that their rope and harness will lower them down safely. They should practice putting their weight on their harness and rope closer to the ground first, before jumping off from high up. Emphasize the importance of clear communication and double-checking safety measures before descending.

 Descending a rock climbing wall using a belay


Creating a Positive Climbing Experience

If you decide to get your kids started with rock climbing, keep in mind that you need to create a positive climbing experience and environment! Just like any other skill, getting better at rock climbing will take time and patience. While many kid climbers turn pro, this won’t happen overnight! Here are some things you can do to encourage your little boulderers:

  1. Encouraging a growth mindset and setting realistic goals
    Promote a growth mindset in kids by emphasizing the importance of effort, perseverance, and personal growth rather than solely focusing on achievements. Encourage them to set realistic goals based on their abilities and stage of climbing. Celebrate progress and incremental improvements, and foster a sense of accomplishment in order to motivate your kids to continue challenging themselves.
  1. Providing a supportive and inclusive environment
    Create an atmosphere where kids feel supported, encouraged, and accepted regardless of their skill level. If you have more than one child, they’ll more often than not be climbing at different levels. Make sure you start to foster a sense of comradery between your kids early on, and encourage cooperation, collaboration, and mutual support. If you invite other kids for playdates, make sure that everyone is supportive, regardless of skill level. This is a great way for your kids to start developing empathy as well, as they’ll have gone through the same challenges when they had first begun climbing.
  1. Incorporating fun and engaging twists into climbing sessions
    To make climbing sessions enjoyable and engaging, incorporate fun and interactive activities. Introduce games and challenges that incorporate climbing movements and techniques, and change up climbing routes as they start to become stale. This not only adds an element of excitement but also helps kids practice their climbing skills in a playful and enjoyable way.
  1. Celebrating achievements and milestones
    Recognize and celebrate the achievements and milestones of young climbers. This can be done through small gestures like high-fives, or celebrations through stickers or healthy snacks for successfully completing challenging routes. You can even organize mini-competitions for your kids to showcase their skills and receive recognition for their accomplishments.

By creating a positive climbing experience, kids will develop a love for the sport, build confidence in their abilities, and gain skills that will last a lifetime.

 Happy little girl home rock climbing wall achievement

How to Get Better at Indoor Rock Climbing for Kids

If your kids take to climbing more quickly than you expected (you might be surprised how common this is!), and just can’t get enough, there are many ways to nurture their passion, and help them become even better.

  1. Climbing summer camps
    Kids climbing summer camps or structured climbing programs are designed specifically for different age groups. These programs offer professional instruction, coaching, and opportunities for skills development in a supportive and engaging environment. Climbing summer camps typically provide a comprehensive experience that includes technique training, conditioning exercises, teamwork activities, and outdoor climbing excursions.
  1. Structured climbing programs for different age groups
    In addition to summer camps, many climbing gyms offer structured programs throughout the year tailored to specific age groups and skill levels, from beginner classes to advanced training sessions. These programs focus on skill progression, technique refinement, and building confidence. Young climbers can learn from experienced instructors who provide guidance, feedback, and customized training based on their developmental stage and abilities. When selecting a climbing program or instructor, consider their qualifications, experience working with children, safety protocols, and teaching approach. Look for instructors who prioritize safety, emphasize proper climbing techniques, and create a positive and supportive learning environment. Consult with climbing professionals, read reviews, and visit different facilities in order to find a program that aligns with your child's goals and abilities.
  1. Set up an indoor kids rock climbing wall for your home
    Installing an indoor climbing wall at home can be an excellent way to foster a love for climbing in your kids. It provides convenient access to climbing opportunities and encourages regular practice. Consider the following factors when setting up a home climbing wall:
    1. Benefits: A home climbing wall allows kids to practice climbing skills at their own pace and convenience, in the comfort of their own home. It provides a dedicated space for climbing and encourages independent exploration. Climbing at home offers the flexibility to customize the climbing routes and difficulty levels based on your child's abilities and progress. Additionally, a home climbing wall can be a source of family bonding and a fun physical activity for all family members.

    2. Options and costs: There are various options for home climbing walls. You could build your own home rock climbing wall, or buy a kids home climbing wall. Building your own wall is likely the most cost-effective option, so long as you have the time and skills. If you decide to buy a home climbing wall, there are a variety of options, ranging from prefabricated modular systems to custom-built walls. Prefabricated systems are easier to install, and can be adjusted to fit different spaces and budgets. Custom-built walls, on the other hand, provide greater flexibility in terms of design, size, and features. Costs can vary depending on the complexity of the wall, materials used, and additional features such as climbing holds and crash pads. Consider your available space, budget, and long-term commitment to climbing before choosing an option. Lil Boulder kids home climbing walls offer the best of both worlds: they’re horizontally modular, meaning that you can have a larger wall if you’d like; the design of the wall can be customized to match your home décor; and they’re much more affordable than customized options, which can cost upwards of $5,000 - $10,000 dollars!

    3. Other considerations: When setting up a home climbing wall, safety should be a top priority. Ensure that the wall is properly installed, and structurally sound, and that you have a crash mat set up in the area beneath the wall to cushion falls. Proper supervision and adherence to safety protocols are also essential – make sure to monitor your child's climbing sessions, provide guidance, and reinforce safe climbing practices.

 Little toddler girl climbing her home kids climbing wall


So what are you waiting for?

Introduce your kids to the world of indoor rock climbing today! It offers endless opportunities for growth, fun, and adventure. Let them discover their passion for climbing and support their journey as they progress, improve their skills, and develop a lifelong love for the sport. Rock climbing offers numerous physical, mental, and social benefits for children, and can spur personal growth.

To continue learning about indoor rock climbing for kids, seek out additional resources like books, online articles, and advice from climbing communities and blogs. Enjoy the journey as you watch your kids scale new heights and conquer their climbing goals!


About Lil Boulder

Lil Boulder is a Canadian small business creating kids home climbing walls by hand, with care. The business began when our cofounder, Mehwish, decided to get her little cousin, Safa, a home climbing wall for her 4th birthday. Safa was growing up in the midst of the pandemic, and her parents were struggling to keep her entertained and active at home.

After hours and hours of research, Mehwish found no good options for kids home climbing walls! And so, she decided to make one herself. After countless trips to Home Depot, many conversations with experts, and hours upon hours watching YouTube tutorials, and sanding, drilling, hammering, and painting, she made the first Lil Boulder climbing wall! Safa absolutely loved her climbing wall, and eventually, once she could have play dates, so did all her friends!

Lil Boulder continues to make all of our kids home climbing walls by hand today, sourced sustainably from materials in Canada and the States. We want to spread the joy of climbing and make this exciting sport more accessible for kids and families all across North America.

Read the full story of how Lil Boulder began, learn about how to build your own home climbing wall, or drop us a note to say hi or with questions at hello@lilboulder.com.

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