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How Climbing Trees Builds Creative Thinking

Have you ever climbed a tree? Do your kids like climbing trees?

This has never been high on my list, even back in the nursery school days, but my 3 year old N has climbing in her soul and will climb just about anything: rock climbing walls, trees, jungle gyms, furniture, fences, etc. She seems to gravitate especially to trees that offer a challenging climb, and I like it because it gets us out into the fresh air and builds strong minds and bodies.

I love good ol’ fashioned play like this, and thought we could all use a visual reminder of how important free-range outdoor play is for kids.

outdoor play kids

The spirit of play is at the heart of imagination, creativity, and innovation. In playful environments, we’re prone to divergent thinking (generating numerous ideas about a topic) and are more inclined to push the limits of what’s possible into the impossible.

Climbing trees may not seem like highly cognitive work, but let’s take a look at what might be involved…

tree climbing kids

First of all, you have to map your idea (a will to climb a tree) with your reality (how will you climb that tree?). And then you have to send signals from your mind to your body to problem solve the execution. Our neighbor’s poor flowers were pelted by too many little climbers who have deemed this the most climbable neighborhood tree, so you might also have to navigate around the mini-flower-shielding fence that’s now in your way.

You might have to make room for a friend, which can build emotional intelligence and help develop spatial reasoning.

You might not yet be ready to climb a tree, but you’re building your confidence by climbing things that are within the zone of proximal development. Go you!

tree climbing kid

And when you reach that branch that always eluded you, the feeling of pride is beyond belief. You’ve accomplished something that only you could accomplish. You’ve tested your strength and your limits, and proven to yourself that you can achieve what you set your mind to.

I always watch my children closely and offer a lot of support when they first take on new physical challenges, but since my goal is to empower them I will step back once I get the cue that they’re comfortable without my assistance. I was talking with a friend today about free-range parenting (maybe you’ve heard of this movement?) and I follow this parenting philosophy to a great extent. I’m very involved in my childrens’ lives and everyday experiences, offer them a great deal of compassion and emotional support, but I’m raising them to be confident, independent thinkers who can make decisions for themselves without a lot of supervision.


I’ve partnered withGoGo squeeZ, the first squeezable, re-sealable, no-mess, 100% fruit, no-sugar added apple­sauce based snack for kids in the U.S, as a Playbassador, which means that I have more reasons to share fun outdoor activities that celebrate play and creativity. All opinions in this post are my own.

GoGo squeeZ believes in the simple mantra of “always play” and is putting this belief to work through the “Pass the Play” campaign with the goal of bringing the simple joy of play to those who need it most across the country.


20 Comments

    • No, this is new to me! Thanks for sharing the link. And you’re right about the nearby trees, although if my kids climbed those it would give me a heart attack!

  1. such a great post, rachelle! gosh, if only i could get out of my friggin’ helicopter and embrace a more free-range approach to parenting, i think we’d all be happier in my family. 😉 right now, i really lean into waldorf school for this piece (and for inspiration to bring the free range energy back home from there!) and try to let go as much as my heart can handle.

    • Thanks Jen! It’s good that you’ve figured out how to find that balance, but I have to say that I’ve seen you parent and haven’t noticed the helicopter thing at all.

    • Oh, this is such a great point and one that I didn’t really think about since I was always the one with the camera, on the ground! This explains part of why our kids love being up there for so long!

  2. this is a great post. eiya loves tree climbing too. we have a neighborhood tree that she climbs. love the free range approach.

    • Don’t you feel lucky to have that tree nearby? I certainly do! Thanks for the sweet comment…I know you’re especially busy these days, Sheau!

  3. While I am far from a Free Range parent, I do believe in allowing kids to climb and explore. My six year old is content with his feet on the ground, but my four year is a little monkey. She loves climbing trees, but I feel like people look at me funny when they see her climbing and me smiling (not yelling at her to get down). Glad you are in favor of tree climbing!

    • If I ever saw your daughter climb a tree I can promise you that I wouldn’t give you a funny look. One of my great friends brings rock climbing harnesses to our town’s park, where she helps kids climb trees — you would love her! My daughter’s good friend came over yesterday and climbed a tree for the first time. She did such a good job and was so proud of herself. It must have felt like climbing a huge mountain to her.

  4. Oh my kids just discovered the joy of climbing trees this past summer… they are really missing it with the onset of a cold wet winter here!

    • It’s hard to imagine that you’re getting into winter, Kate. Tree climbing is definitely for warmer weather. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  5. Wonderful and inspiring post…thank you!!! I Love to climb trees and continue to do so when I feel the urge…I find it incredibly sad that so many children are not getting the opportunity to climb a tree, they really are missing out on something so wonderful and magical. I try to encourage tree climbing whenever possible…..
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxH-GFnmRiQ&feature=plcp
    I just wrote a post last month on the importance of climbing trees…http://www.marghanita.com/do-you-let-your-child-climb-trees/

    Happy Tree Climbing…love and peace, Marghanita xx

  6. Hi Everyone.

    Now this post takes me back to a very happy childhood, with summers spent climbing trees in the local orchards in Kent (UK). I also remember vividly the pain of eating under-ripe apples (more than one occasion – ouch!)

    It’s such a pity more parents don’t allow their kids more freedom to explore our natural world – and climbing certainly breeds confidence in the young and helps strengthen their physical and emotional development.

    My friend Elliot produces a range of climbing holds especially for children (http://www.customholds.com) and he tells me that kids love to design their own unique climbing walls for themselves and their friends – particularly those not lucky enough to have trees in the garden to clamber up!

  7. I love climbing trees. It is literally my life. I have this giant pine tree out in my road and it looks right over the highest roofs and I can watch the sunset and see everything. Unfortunatley my mum says I can’t go up there anymore, but I’m going to find a way to persuade her. A life without climbing trees is like not having any air to breathe. It really helps you get away from everything and appreciate your natural surroundings.

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