Tuesday, July 2, 2013

10:07 PM
On Belay!
One of the coolest things about watching your kids grow up is seeing them become more and more physically capable as they grow into their little bodies. Even better is when they start enjoying a sport that you love, allowing it to become an activity that you can do together - a core principle of the MommyTasker philosophy.

I really love rock climbing, but after trying for several years to get my boyfriend/husband to like it, I finally gave up and accepted it as an activity that I do solely with friends. It is great insofar as I get to spend time with other people, but I am a twinge envious of the family climbing trips that a lot of my friends go on. The tide may be turning though as my daughter is proving to be a much less reluctant climbing partner than my husband. I have actually been taking her with me to the climbing gym and to some outdoor bouldering spots since she was an infant. Initially she just lolled around or played on a blanket while I bouldered, but now if she comes along she does as much climbing as I do. Granted, "climbing" is a strong word for what she does, but if the goal is to try something new, gain some strength and experience, and above all have a good time, then by those metrics she is excelling.

In doing some research on the subject of kids and climbing, I can across an article that said that one of the recent recommendations by the President's Council on Children's Health was the need for, "major emphasis [on] lifetime physical fitness activities for the development of strength, endurance and flexibility... " The report went on to suggest recreational climbing as an ideal pursuit for children to develop these crucial skills... [and that] If you enjoy climbing then it follows that you should climb with your children. It's a great skill to teach them because, aside from the emphasis on strength and coordination, it's something they can take advantage of long after the team-sport days of their youth are gone. 

My experience of incorporating my daughter into my climbing is by no means unique among my climbing friends. In fact, many go much farther in terms of taking their young children climbing outside on a very regular basis, enrolling them in climbing camps or on teams, and otherwise exposing them to the sport. Below is a snapshot of these aforementioned kids rock climbing, and a short synopsis of how my friends feel about climbing with their kids:

Former Supermodel Turned Supermom and Potential Guide Book Author:
The Princess and the Problem
Climbing with kids is challenging, but can be done and even be fun. I found that I have to significantly lower expectations as to how much climbing can be accomplished and pick the location wisely (i.e., I prefer good kid hangout and only so-so climbing to the other way around).I like going with other families, as it seems more fun for kids, and the adults can help out watching each others kids. I also love being outdoors in beautiful setting with my little ones. Before, they often said "mommy no climbing" and now they chant "go mommy go, go mommy go..." together as I try a climb. I'm waiting for the guidebook:"Bay Area Climbing With Kids" with a rating system for kid friendliness - I don't think it is in the works with anyone, I think I need to write it...

The Neuroscientist and Her "Crag Baby":
Man of Stone
I really love being able to take my son climbing with me because we get to spend the whole day outdoors together even if we are doing different things.  He is often curious about what I am climbing, how hard it is, how old I think he will be when he is able to climb it!  Lately he has also been very dubious about projecting and is still trying to grasp why I have to climb things over and over again even though I "got to the top."  Mostly, I just love being with him and like to have him around AND get to do something I love.

The Yosemite Homesteader and Silicon Valley Exec:
A Wee One Rockstar
If you used to be an avid rock climber and now have a child, you can still have lots of fun out at the crags with your child, but of course you'll have to reset your expectations.  You'll need to switch to one-pitch climbs, and you'll need to find friends willing to climb in a group together - now's the perfect chance to take out those beginner climber friends who've always wanted you to take them climbing!  I used to have big goals and train for long, hard climbs, but now have a ton of fun just being outside in the places I love with my daughter.  She did her first "climb" a few weeks ago (we hung a rope on a low angle slab and she walked up while on belay) and I was so proud of her!  Now that's far more exciting for me than climbing a big, scary route used to be!

Some tips to get your kids into climbing are summarized below and in this article, and most of them are generally applicable to other sports. The key seems to be to make the experience light, easy, fun and rewarding - something the kids want to do, not have to do. Climbing can be enjoyed as a lifelong sport, so you don't want to have them burn out at an early age, and as in everything else, if the kids aren't having fun, then no one is having fun.

Depending on body size, coordination, strength and interest, children can be introduced to roped climbing by the age of four or five. Whether or not they're ready for climbing will be obvious once you get to the rock or artificial wall. If they like it, they'll do it cheerfully. If they aren't interested, or are scared, don't push them. If your child is timid about heights, let him or her bounce around on the end of the rope. Eventually, he or she will begin to watch other people climb and want to do it himself/herself.
Always emphasize proper safety practices. Stress the essentials, but avoid a school-like atmosphere. Remember, you and your child are a climbing team, not a teacher and student.
Always talk through the correct steps in preparation for a climb, and repeat them frequently to emphasize the importance of correct safety procedures. Climbing partners always double-check each other's knots and buckles as a matter of course, so get your kid in the habit from day one.
Make sure the first climbing experience is short and easy. Select a short, extremely easy climb close to the road. Pick something that is low-angled with lots of big, obvious holds and with the anchor directly above the climb. It is best to top-rope a child, with you on the ground, so you can watch or coach.
Above all, be positive. 
For a perspective on what climbing at your own pace looks like when you are barely five and generally very cautious, here is my daughter during our climbing session today:

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