Climbing trees is a favorite pastime of children. The idea of climbing trees has been romanticized in both literature and film and by adults who fondly recall climbing trees as kids. However, as a hobby it ranges from fun and athletic to hazardous, depending on the age of the child, the age and health of the tree , and the level of parent/ guardian supervision. Online communities are now buzzing with talk about the hazards vs. benefits of allowing one’s child to climb trees. What’s the safest answer?
According to Gever Tulley, Author of the book Fifty Dangerous Things, “children experience a unique perspective and freedom when they climb up and look out on the world from a new vantage point . . . positive experiences climbing trees help children have a strong positive connection with nature.” He states that child development specialists observe a heightened awareness and focus in children who engage with natural climbing structures. In addition, these children learn to exercise good judgment and self-restraint as they decide which route they will take and just how high they plan to climb. Developmentally, tree climbing is a character-and-intellect-building process that benefits children physically and mentally.
When contending with heights and physical coordination, the experts are divided about the safety of tree climbing for children. According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, children should avoid wearing helmets when climbing trees, as the helmet can snag and the strap can asphyxiate them. However, the Open Waldorf organization encourages the wearing of not only helmets but harnesses and climbing ropes as well. While Waldorf may intend to teach children as much about climbing safety as climbing gear 101, the usefulness of such heavy gear for young children has not been proven.
The Answer for Your Child
With so many ideas in flux, the best decision you can make for yourself and your child is the informed one. First, know your child. Is she naturally reckless or a careful planner? Your child’s temperament will play a major role in your choices about which trees she climbs. Second, know your trees. While young trees will be lower to the ground and easier for your children to climb, they may also have unstable branches. In addition, old fruit trees with decaying branches may be short but liable to break under the weight of your growing child. Consult an arborist  about the trees in your yard before sending your children out to play. Above all, keep a watchful eye so that the interactions your children have with nature will be positive, safe, and character-building