Benefits of Climbing for Children
The connection between children and climbing involves more than curiosity or pent-up energy. Kids use skills like climbing to explore and test their environments as they grow. Playground climbers allow children to conduct this important exploring in a safe yet stimulating setting.
Because of the crucial purpose exploration serves in childhood growth, climbing offers a number of multi-faceted benefits. The developmental benefits of climbing can be divided into five categories: physical, mental, social, sensory awareness, and health.
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Though kids view climbing as a fun pastime, physical activity helps to support body and skill development. Climbing in particular is an excellent low-impact full-body workout for kids of all ages, whether they’re scaling small playground climbers or conquering full-scale rock walls.
The physical benefits of a climbing frame for preschoolers and elementary children may include:
- Increased lean muscle mass and strength from kids pulling up their body weight.
- Improved fine motor movements from using hand-eye coordination to grasp handholds and wrap their fingers around them.
- Improved gross motor movements as kids scale climbing structures and engage their entire body.
- Sharpened visual perception as kids scout areas to place their hands and feet while climbing.
- Refined speed, coordination, agility, and balance as children climb and continually improve.
Physical development is foundational for a healthy body, but research shows its impact reaches even further. In fact, physical activity influences both cognitive development and motor skills in preschool children.
The physical benefits of climbing can help prepare young children for further development, which can aid learning in the classroom and beyond.
More specifically, climbing may help children with conditions that affect their motor skills, like dyspraxia, improve their coordination and upper body strength, which they may lack as a result of the disorder.
When children are climbing, they engage their brains in valuable ways. Whether it’s on a rock wall or a ladder structure, the child must determine how they’ll climb to the top and what actions they need to complete to do so. This thinking provides the following mental benefits:
- Practicing decision-making skills
- Completing an activity that requires a specific sequence
- Solving low-risk problems
- Visualizing solutions to a challenge
- Improving focus
- Clearing the mind of outside stressors
- Improving both long- and short-term memory and recall
To work through these mental benefits, kids have to concentrate, build their focus, and persist when their plan fails. Children can apply these skills in the classroom when they’re asked to follow instructions, complete a sequence in a certain order, or learn a new skill. As a form of physical exercise, climbing may also help to improve a child’s mental wellness. Michigan State University states that active children report fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as a better overall mood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), talking, reading, and playing can stimulate brain growth in children. This brain growth — and the mental benefits it produces — is crucial to overall development and learning.
In fact, climbing can boost students’ academic performance. In 2008, Naperville Central High School implemented the Learning Readiness P.E. (LRPE) program, a physical education class designed for students who were falling behind in reading and math. This revamped P.E. curriculum switched out traditional large team sports in favor of different activities like rock climbing, dancing, and ropes courses. The students who participated in the program saw significant improvements in their literacy and math scores. Staff also reported noticeable improvements in mood, focus, and memory.
The social benefits of climbing span several necessary skills and developmental milestones. The interactions children have when climbing on a playground help them master self-control and emotional regulation. As they wait their turn to climb and face new climbing challenges, these skills are put to the test.
Climbing also provides some of the following emotional benefits for kids:
- Gaining confidence in their ability to face challenges
- Learning to cope with fear and stress when working through difficult tasks
- Developing self-reliance as they work to scale a climber on their own
- Learning intrinsic motivation as they choose which obstacles and tasks they want to take on
- Building resilience as they learn to push through temporary discomfor
Climbing can also provide an excellent opportunity to engage in pretend play. Whether kids imagine they’re scaling a mountain or climbing a ladder into a pirate ship, play serves a vital developmental role. Pretend play offers the following benefits for children:
- Space to develop creativity and imagination
- An opportunity to express emotions
- Perspective that allows them to consider the way other people act, think, and feel
- A chance to communicate with both words and actions
- A safe place to experiment with and learn social roles
Studies have shown a strong link between healthy social development and school readiness in young children. In addition, social skills have a lifelong impact as a child matures into adulthood.
Plus, climbing is just plain fun. The physical and mental challenge of kids pushing themselves to the top of an obstacle releases a flood of endorphins — neurotransmitters that improve mood, reduce stress, and even relieve feelings of pain. As a result, kids feel more confident and capable of taking on new risks, from social situations to classroom learning, after climbing and playing with others.
Sensory Awareness Benefits
Climbing allows children to experiment with and improve their sensory awareness. There are numerous kinetic tasks within climbing that support this growth, including:
- Pushing against rungs or footholds to climb
- Stretching to reach the next handhold
- Swinging from one handhold to the next
- Pulling on a handhold to climb
Kids use spatial awareness and reasoning to complete these tasks and build their sensory skills. Accordingly, climbing supports two kinds of sensory growth:
- Proprioception: These senses help us determine where our limbs are in relation to one another and the amount of force needed for different tasks. Body awareness is essential as kids separate arm and leg movements while climbing.
- Vestibular: These senses coordinate movement and balance to determine where our body is in space. Vestibular senses are important to help kids understand how their limbs interact with the space around them. This sense supports walking, standing, and sitting without falling.
Climbing facilitates healthy body processes that can help promote overall wellness and proper physical development. Some of the health benefits of climbing include:
- Increased cardiovascular flow: When kids raise their arms above their heads to reach for a handhold, they can increase cardiovascular flow.
- Increased flexibility: The movement required to climb mimics a natural stretching motion, which can increase flexibility.
- Improved strength: To climb a ladder or rock wall, children must pull themselves up with their hands and arms. This action simultaneously improves their grip, upper body strength, and arm strength.
- Improved coordination: The act of climbing requires coordination between a child’s hands, eyes, arms, legs, and feet. Climbing also works a child’s core, which helps them improve balance both on and off the playground.
According to the CDC, childhood exercise offers additional benefits, like a reduced risk of developing the following health conditions later in life:
- Some cancers
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol levels
- Type 2 diabetes
Opportunities to climb provide children with the tools to fuel holistic growth. What they view as free reign to explore, adults recognize as quality learning grounds.
Types of Climbing Equipment
Kids can gain the benefits of climbing by using various structures. Some popular playground examples include:
- Climbing nets: These rope nets can easily fit into nautical or nature-themed playgrounds, making them an excellent choice for imaginative play. Kids can pretend they’re pulling themselves up onto the side of a ship while working on their upper body strength.
- Rock walls: Rock climbing walls provide ready hand- and footholds for kids to pull themselves up. While they’re less common than some of the other options on this list, they’re great for getting in a full-body workout. Plus, kids who love rock walls might be interested in pursuing competitive rock climbing as a future hobby.
- Climbing towers: Complex structures like web towers and jungle gyms provide kids with a giant puzzle to solve. They have to plan ahead and figure out which steps they can take to reach the other side, which challenges them mentally as well as physically.
- Overhead climbing equipment: Overhead climbing equipment like monkey bars and challenge ladders push kids to develop their grip and upper body strength while simultaneously exercising their core and sense of balance.
Support Climbing Benefits With Little Tikes Commercial Playground Equipment
At Little Tikes Commercial, we understand that playgrounds provide a space for important childhood development. To that end, our products offer a safe and inclusive atmosphere where kids can experience the Magic Outside. No matter what you’re looking for, all of our equipment is crafted with safety, quality, and durability in mind.
Our NU-edge and NU-edge X products offer a wide array of climbing configurations that are suitable for multiple ages. For more information about our climber offerings or to hear more about the value of a Little Tikes Commercial playground, contact a sales representative today.