Let them climb trees

Let them climb treesWhenever we go for a walk my children instantly start searching for trees to climb. And I always let them climb trees.

Number one in the National Trust’s list of “50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾” is climb a tree.

In parks and woods where there are trees whose lower arms spread out in a welcoming embrace, I notice how children are drawn to them.

The UK Forestry Commission is aware of this too. They try to keep rather than cut lower limbs in forest areas where people play: “We all remember those special trees with large lower limbs that we climbed, swung and bounced on.”Let them climb trees low branchesLet them climb trees kids climbingLet them climb trees Western Red CedarLet them climb trees Sheffield Park

Yet…

Too many children have never had this outdoor experience.  A 2011 study found that 32% of British children have never climbed a tree.

Many parks and councils ban tree climbing. The regulations of the nine Royal Parks – including Richmond Park and Hyde Park in London – state that it is an offence to climb or interfere with a tree.  The London Borough of Enfield says this is a no-no in any of their outdoor spaces.

Many fear the risks. But risk taking is actually good for children’s development. Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) declared they have no rules banning activities like tree climbing. Instead they encourage it: “Skipping, playing conkers and football and climbing trees are all important activities which help children to have fun and learn about handling risk at the same time.”  They emphasize that “When planning and providing play opportunities, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits” and explain their approach here.

Natural play and nature helps children to be fitter, smarter and happier. Richard Louv’s seminal book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder spearheaded campaigns and more studies calling for children to get back to nature. The National Trust launched their 50 things to do list after releasing a report on the importance and benefits of a natural childhood.

Learning how to deal with risks helps children to be more prepared to deal with adult life. A child psychologist explained in the Natural Childhood report: “The less children play outdoors, the less they learn to cope with the risks and challenges they will go on to face as adults… Nothing can replace what children gain from the freedom and independence of thought they have when trying new things out in the open.”

So last weekend as usual my twins were clambering over branches, finding nooks and crannies to put a foot in and reaching up for higher arms to support them. They were doubly excited as they could claim the area as their own. Not surprisingly it’s usually filled with other children. There were stones and rocks around but I let them assess the risks and enjoy this childhood pleasure. Let them climb trees Wakehurst PlaceLet them climb trees and kidsTree climbing and assessing risksTrees and stonesLet them climb trees with child in branches

Children need to play outdoors – and take risks – and climb trees. What’s your view? (And I don’t mean that glorious vista high up in a tree!)

Note: The climbing trees featured in this post were enjoyed by Luce and Theo at National Trust’s Sheffield Park and Kew’s Wakehurst Place both located in Sussex.

21 thoughts on “Let them climb trees”

  1. I grew up in the wild forests of Canada, climbing (and falling out of!) so many trees. However, I live on a remote island in the middle of the North Sea and there are no trees here! There are a few little clumps of trees here and there but none of the climbing variety, so when we took the kids to the mainland for the very first time last year one of the best places we took them was a Go Ape facility in the Lake District. Talk about happy kids! 😀

  2. I think you can second guess my view on this one Kriss, the statistics are frightening and to me it is a natural part of growing up and risk taking, you can’t learn risk without ever experiencing any. I do remember visiting a park with my children once and there being a lovely old tree with low branches for climbing, naturally they all climbed up and a grumpy park warden came up and asked that they get down as it was dangerous for them to play in the tree, mine looked at him like he had landed from Mars, they had never heard anything so odd growing up in our wooded valley. I can also remember the times on family outings where they have been the ones leading others up trees, children learn from each other, if no one is taking risk how will they learn or experience the thrill and enjoyment of succeeding? Lovely post, I could rant for hours on this one, thank you so much for sharing on #CountryKids

    1. It’s so worrisome how so many think it could be dangerous and stop children from one of the best parts of childhood play. I quoted Health & Safety in the post as they are very clear that they have no regulations banning or warning against tree climbing – in fact the opposite! Wonderful how your kids are often role models to others on the fabulous things to do outdoors and in nature.

  3. Those are lovely trees to climb! I must say though that little T’s most favourite one to climb is also in a National Trust Property – at Antony where they filmed Alice in Wonderland. They have this enormous tree with lovely branches perfect for climbing 🙂 #countrykids.

    1. That’s the fantastic thing about National Trust gardens is that they understand how important it is for kids to climb trees! I love how the Forestry Commission too has a policy to retain low branches in areas where children will want to climb

  4. Kizzy -Peonies & Puddles

    Mine love climbing trees too. It’s their favourite past time in the summer, especially at their nanna’s

  5. My little one is only 14 months, so can’t yet reach tree branches. But we will definitely let him once he can. Completely agree with what you say about risk taking – how can they learn if we prevent them from doing anything? #CountryKids

    1. It’s nerve wracking when toddlers begin to notice and try climbing trees but I’ve loved watching mine getting more skilled over the years – and yes letting them to something risky to learn how to handle it!

  6. Lovely photographs Kriss of the trees and your kids! I cannot imagine any child could get to 11 3/4 without having climbed a tree – absurd! Mine still enjoy it even now at 15, 14 and 11 🙂

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