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Climbing Trees Is Safer than Organized Sports

It is natural for parents to worry about their children, but here's why it is important for children to climb trees.
girl climbing tree

So why are parents so scared of it?

There’s a big pine tree in our side yard. It’s around 50 feet tall and holds a magnetic attraction for my children and their friends. It’s not uncommon for me to step outside and hear a small voice from up in the sky, shouting, “I’m up here!” Sure enough, a small body waves enthusiastically from a high branch. Eventually they come down, covered in sap and scratched by branches, but delighted by their conquest. (Then I show them how to rub butter into the sap, and then wash it off with soap and water.)

I never stop them from climbing that pine tree (or the magnolia or the pear) because I believe it’s so important for them. On a physical level, climbing trees builds muscular strength and flexibility, develops motor skills and depth perception, teaches them to assess a branch’s size and ability to hold them, and forces them to concentrate.

On an emotional level, it’s a pure thrill to attain such heights, to be out of reach of parents and safety, to be in control of pushing their own boundaries. It gives them a space for imagination to run wild and to feel connected to nature. It instills confidence and, in a way, makes them safer overall because they become more capable humans.

But what about injury? This is the niggling doubt at the back of every parent’s mind.

Falling out of a tree is always a possibility (I did it as a kid and broke my arm, which I later perceived as a badge of honor in the kid world), but compared to other injuries, tree-climbing is a non-issue. Rain or Shine Mamma cites a 2016 study from the University of Phoenix:

“Researchers surveyed 1,600 parents who let their children climb trees and found that the most common injury by far was scraped skin. Only 2 percent of the parents responded that their child had broken a bone and even fewer had suffered from a concussion. Meanwhile, more than 3.5 million American children under the age of 14 receive medical treatment for injuries from organized sports every year.”

This shows that if a parent were truly serious about injury prevention, they’d never sign their kid up for organized sports. But that’s a ludicrous thought. Most parents wouldn’t for a second doubt that the benefits of sport outweigh the risks. So why don’t we do that with tree-climbing and other free play activities in nature?

It’s time to let go and “let grow” (as Lenore Skenazy’s free-range play organization is called). Don’t get hung up on statistically negligible injuries and let your kids climb trees to their hearts’ content. Maybe even join them once in a while. I have yet to scale the pine, but you never know…


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