“It’s too high, I want to get down!”
“I can’t do it, it’s too hard!”
“I’m too scared to jump!”
These are just a few of the things I heard– and promptly ignored — from my first graders at a recent Forest Friday as they slowly made their way up and into a willow tree in our outdoor classroom. Some might call my lack of response negligent and uncaring. I call it strength training.
Kids who climb trees, and are encouraged to struggle and stick it out, become stronger not only physically, but also mentally.
Help your kids get to know trees on a personal level with Lesson 14: Trees.
Despite all of their self-deprecating comments and vocalizations about fear and doubt, all the kids who attempted to climb the tree that day succeeded in not only getting up, but also getting down. Yes, some took much more coaxing, encouragement, and time than others, but in the end they all did it. And then they didn’t stop telling other kids about it for the rest of the day.
As I stood below the tree and alternately acted as cheerleader, co-strategizer, reassurer, and confidence-booster, I had lots of time to reflect on the many amazing and largely intangible skills and traits each climber was honing through this process.
- Strength and balance. Tree climbing is a full-body workout rivaling the most intense exercise programs in terms of its benefits for muscle development and core-strengthening. Core strength is practically an endangered species in children today, and the repercussions are serious: just think how many kids you know who are W-sitters, can’t sit up for more than a few minutes, or have trouble sitting still in a chair.
- Bravery. Climbing higher and higher into a plant with unknown strength and weight-bearing capacity is downright terrifying. It takes a significant amount of courage to keep ascending when every ounce of your being is telling you to return to the nice, firm ground.
- Perseverance. It’s so much easier to just give up and say no, especially when the going gets tough. It’s fascinating to see what kids do when they get to a tricky part of a climb. How will they tackle this fork in the branch? How will they get around the spiky burl? Where will they put their feet when there are no foot-holds to be found? In my experience, even the kids who declare it can’t be done manage to find a way. And once they’ve tackled that first obstacle, the subsequent struggles become much less daunting.
- Confidence. Remember that kid who just moments ago was crying “I can’t do it, it’s too hard!” and begging you to get them down out of the tree? Well, now they’re on the ground, beaming from ear to ear, radiating confidence, and telling anyone within earshot that climbing that tree “was so easy!” and “so fun!” and getting right back in line to do it all again. Funny how they never seem to remember the hard parts.