Why Climbing is the Perfect Activity for Your Kids

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Kids have a ton of energy. What better way to harness the energy into an outdoor activity than introducing the kiddos to climbing.

Climbing teaches critical problem-solving and decision-making skills.

Ascending a climbing route is a lot like piecing together a puzzle. Each move requires a constant, iterative decision-making process—where to go and how best to get there. Over and over again. Learning to solve problems, thinking for yourself (the answer is most definitely not in the back of the book), and making smart decisions are taught skill sets desperately lacking in today’s educational environment, where the focus is on memorizing and reciting for testing purposes.

Out on the crag, it’s a constant real-life, real-time lesson in thinking for yourself, reacting quickly and learning immediately the consequences of your decisions. Climbing is life accelerated, where instant feedback is given for every decision or indecision you make on the wall.

It imparts bravery and the ability to adapt and overcome difficult circumstances.

Overcoming fear is a life skill integral to success. Whether it’s fear of the unknown, fear of getting started or fear of failure, all successful adults learn as kids that you must be courageous, bold and daring to make something of yourself in this world. Encouraging your kids to leave their comfort zones and confront their fears will ingrain character and bravery. Bravery is the reward for taking a chance, overcoming nerves, and escaping the dreaded comfort zone.

It promotes healthy life choices.

Ever seen an obese rock climber? Ever encountered a two-pack-a-day smoker at the climbing wall? Okay, well, maybe “back in the day,” but no longer. Rock climbing loves agility, flexibility, muscular strength and muscular endurance. It hates obesity, laziness and weakness. Climbers are typically healthy eaters and cross-train in all sorts of other activities—from cycling and yoga to dancing and surfing. To be a successful climber, you’ve got to eat well, drink water and build a long, lean muscular body. Being fit and strong goes a long way to enabling success on the crag. Getting your kids climbing will give them a reason to trade greasy chips for apples and the gaming console for a bicycle, all in preparation to flash that 5.10 this weekend.

Rock climbing is an adventure sport that can be learned at relative low risk in highly controlled environments.

For better or worse, climbing has a reputation as an extreme sport. While that’s certainly true of the sport’s elite professionals, most climbing is actually rather pedestrian. Beginner climbers learn on a top rope (the rope is run through an anchor above the route of ascent). Falling on a top rope has basically zero consequences when using the correct anchors and belaying techniques; the length of the fall is roughly equal to the dynamic give of the rope and the climber’s weight—or, practically speaking, a few millimeters. Biking, kayaking, skiing, surfing, etc. are all far more dangerous than rock climbing. In my younger years, I guided and instructed all those activities, and climbing was always the easiest to control and make safe. This makes climbing truly unique in the adventure sports world—you can learn the ropes (pun intended) without risking major injury.

It teaches discipline and focus.

Look, I’m no Great Santini. I’m no drill sergeant. In fact, I’m pretty easy going. However, I’ve been around the block enough to know that self-discipline and focus are traits inherent in the world’s greatest achievers. Climbing is an excellent way to impart the basics of discipline because it requires focus and discipline to succeed. There’s no multitasking or messing around when you’re climbing a vertical rock face. Your kids will quickly learn that climbing narrows the world into a single rock line. No matter what’s going on around them, astute focus on the task at hand and the discipline to see it through is thrust on them from the very moment they plant their first foothold.

And it teaches lifelong outdoor skills: knot tying, route finding, anchor building, rappelling, etc.

Sailing, paddling, backpacking—rock climbing’s hard skills are applicable across the spectrum of outdoor sports. Knot tying, along with map and compass skills and campcraft, lays the foundation of an outdoor education. Learning to read vertical rock makes basic route finding all the easier. Anchor building and rappelling are critical rescue skills. Your kids may gravitate to kayaking, skiing or sailing in their later years, but when their skill set begins with rock climbing it’ll remain with them for a lifetime.

It’s affordable.

A family of four can start sport climbing outdoors for relatively little cost: Four harnesses at $50 each, one rope for $150, a belay device for $25, four sets of (used) rock shoes at $50, and a set of quickdraws for $100 gets the family out on a crag for $675. Considering there are no recurring participation fees, and much of that gear will last a decade, climbing is one of the most affordable outdoor activities available. You’ll be hard pressed to find even one used mountain bike for what it costs to start the whole family climbing. Of course, the sky’s the limit when it comes to gearing up, but getting started needn’t be a major financial investment. Along with the perceived danger involved, the idea that climbing costs a lot to get started is probably the sport’s next biggest misconception.

Climbing provides a healthy dose of humility.

I’m as guilty as anyone: I shower my son with love, attention and positive reinforcement. However, it’s critical to his character development that he fall on his butt. So much of climbing is falling, failing and learning to persevere. It’s important to show your kids how powerful Ma Nature is—that summiting even a short 40-foot pitch can take every ounce of mental and physical ability they have—and that at some point in life we’ll all be humbled before Her power. But learning to persevere in the face of failure is a life lesson that will pay for itself over and over again, long past the day your kids start having kids.

The bottom line: Climbing is “super fun.”

To wrap it up, I conducted exhaustive research straight from the source: my 10-year-old son, an avid climber, skier, mountain biker, skateboarder, hip-hop dancer and backpacker. Over dinner the other day, I asked him why he likes climbing. He thought for a solid nanosecond before blurting, “It’s super fun, Dad! Duh.”

So there you have it. You may not care about the healthy lifestyle climbing promotes or all the intangibles your kids will glean from it, but you can’t deny that being a kid ought to be fun, and climbing is super fun. For my money, having a good time with my boy (while he’s still young enough to want to have fun with me) is more than enough reason to convince me that climbing is the perfect activity for kids.

Learn all the skills you need to get out climbing with REI’s Outdoor School Climbing classes, outings and events.

Photo credit: Stock photo ©Buenaventuramariano.

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