Don’t Climb The Trees! A Case for Childhood Play

By Holly Giles | Great Outdoors

We recently attended a student day event at a beautiful state park. The day was supposed to be filled with demonstrations and hands-on activities for students to learn primitive tool making. Grayson was most excited because this is one of his hobbies.

Another family joined us for the event and as we walked from tent to tent, not much demonstrating was going on. There were fascinating objects, materials, and tools to see but each carried a tag of “do not touch”. The other mom and I looked puzzled as each booth we visited seemed to tout the same message. Rocks under glass and history at their fingertips, but they were not allowed to explore.

The icing on the cake was when Grant jumped up to grab hold of a low branch of an oak tree, perfect for swinging, except there was a red sign hanging next to his hands that said: “Don’t swing from the trees”. The other mom giggled because her kids were getting ready to do the same thing.

What has our world come to when kids can’t swing from tree branches anymore? I have fond memories from up in trees at all my relative’s homes, parks and anywhere else a branch hung low enough to invite us up. It was where secrets were told, watermelon was eaten and the occasional spying on the neighbors.

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Tree climbing is childhood.

Climbing trees, rocks, cement cylinders and playground equipment builds muscle and activates brain activity. Engaging in all the body parts and excitement of climbing actually is making your kids grow! Keeping them on the ground is thwarting their natural instincts to be curious and explore.

Build a love of nature.

When children are allowed to climb, crawl and explore the natural world their senses are opened up to touch, see and smell. When kids come in contact more with nature, they want to know more about it. Curiosity sparks learning, and learning is what we are after.

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Let imaginations go wild.

My childhood backyard housed an enormous eucalyptus tree with perfect branches for sitting. My friends and I would sit all up in that tree and create imaginary worlds. It was a private club of course where membership was required. We made membership cards out of construction paper and called ourselves the Green Leaf Club. I know, our imaginations were not wild with the name.

We crafted a quick escape with a garden hose wrapped around one branch. We slid down it like a fire pole. When friends weren’t around, I read Nancy Drew mysteries until dark. It was my place to feel free and safe, no matter what was going on inside the house.

Imagination cannot be explored from a couch looking at a screen. Passive entertainment does not allow children to think creatively. Outdoor hours should far surpass screen time.

Preserve Childhood.

Next time you are at a park, hiking a trail or any tree that is calling your kids, SAY YES. Let them experience the exhilaration of the climb and the satisfaction of sitting up on a branch. Let them swing from that branch just at their reach of outstretched hands. Child’s play is the work of growing, learning and exploring. Don’t hang a red sign and make them sit still.

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Engage in activity.

Being engaged in an activity is what keeps kids attention when learning. Let them pick up tools, let them mix parts, let them hit rocks together to see the spark. Children who cannot actively engage in history or science will not feel a connection to learn more. Dry facts or forbidden articles are not interesting.

As our modern society is squeezing the joy from childhood with each passing year, choose differently for your kids. Children were created to be full of wonder and curiosity. They were created for play. It is how they learn. Take a stand for tree climbing or at least more hands-on, dirty outdoor play!

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