If you are a climber and hope to get your kid or toddler rock climbing than the most important thing for you to remember is EXPOSURE. Start exposing babies and toddlers to climbing as soon as you can. ‘Babies see, babies do’. Kids want to be like their parents. They need to see you climb. Bring them to a gym and take them outdoors. Let them watch climbing even when they can’t physically do it themselves.
Build a Climbing Wall:
Kids, toddlers, babies – they naturally all want to climb everything so make them something to climb on. We built a small climbing wall when my first, Eve, was a year old. We were living in a rental at the time so it was a non-permanent wall that we could move. You can build anything of the sort that fits your needs and circumstances.
Because we already had it, our second, River, was exposed much sooner obviously. There are some things to keep in mind if you give your toddlers a climbing wall. If an adult is necessary to spot them because they can hurt themselves from falling than you probably want to place it somewhere it can be regulated or locked away. Once our girls were older and could climb it on their own we put it in their bedroom so they could climb it whenever they wanted. That brought its own humorous problems, of course.
Such as when…
River had not woken up from her nap for a few hours. Finally, I decided I wanted to risk waking her up and check on her so I turned on my inner-ninja and cracked open the door . She wasn’t in her bed. She wasn’t next to the bed. I started to walk around in somewhat of a panic looking for her (mind you its only been a few seconds) and finally I brought my eye-level up and found her taking a nap on the climbing wall. Not the safest spot for a nap, but it was cute.
On another day, as I was sitting in my house, I listened and heard silence. This was unusual because there were a few kids playing in my daughters’ bedroom. Again, I cracked open the door to check on them. As you can see in the picture, they had begun stacking everything they could on the climbing wall. They planned to all somehow fit on the top as well. Needless to say, a new rule was set that day.
Before you all panic and I’m posted across news stations for dangerous parenting, everyone is alive and well in my home and no broken bones as of yet.
Have them Swing:
When you want to take your toddler or kid out of the house to climb at the gym or outside than you need to know that they might not want to climb! Every child is different but I think its important not to force them to climb. You could push them to hate the sport completely or you could scare them to the point that they won’t be willing to try it again for quite some time.
My experience is that they don’t particularly love the harness when you first put it on them. Follow your super-power parents’ intuition and just feel it out. Consider just putting the harness on a few times to help them get use to it. Until my kids were three, they really only wanted to swing. We would put the harness on them and let them bounce on the rope for as long as they wanted.
Let them Climb:
Again, every child is different so it will depend on them when they start to really try to climb. My two-year old (19 months if you want to know specifically…) just started to go from swinging to climbing 20 feet outside suddenly this past month. Once they do start going up you need to make sure they practice coming down before you let them keep going. This is extremely important. Coming down is really the most complicated part of climbing with kids under four. You don’t want them to get too high and get too scared to let go of the rock and then you can’t reach them to get them down.
- Have them STOP OFTEN, every few feet, the first few times they climb and have them show you that they are comfortable.
- Tie a piece of rope or webbing to the back of their harness so that you can pull them away from the wall if you need. This is helpful:
- (1) when they get too scared and won’t let go or they just aren’t listening or understanding. Even though my 2 year old knows the position to be in when being lowered, she still needs help getting into it or she doesn’t do it right.
- (2) to help them not get hurt in coming down. What I mean is that they don’t have good balance at that age and I’ve seen kids do a nice barrel role when being lowered and therefore likely to bonk their heads and get a little scratched up. Having something for you to steady them will help them have a more enjoyable experience coming down and teach them how to do it.
Get the gear:
- Harness: If your kids are going to get into climbing they will NEED a harness. We bought the Petzl Simba Full-body climbing harness for Eve. Click here for a product review. Rose later used the Edelrid Fraggle II. Click here for a product review.
- Shoes and chalk bag: A little climber DOES NOT NEED shoes or a chalk bag but I have found that my children seem to absolutely LOVE having them. It has seemed to make them enjoy it that much more. Again, they want to do what they see you do. They see you put on special shoes and chalk up your hands, they want to do the same. Once Eve started taking our shoes and trying to climb with them we invested in some Mad Rock Monkey 2.0 climbing shoes of her own for her birthday. Click here for a product review. River later used the La Sportiva Stickit FriXion RS climbing shoe. Click here for a product review
- Helmet: I HIGHLY RECOMMEND a helmet if your kids are in this age group. You want to keep them safe and quite honestly, toddlers are clumsy and lack balance (picture an intoxicated adult) which makes for many potential head bonks on the crag. Both Eve and River have their own Petzl Picchu Climbing Helmet. Click here for a product review.
- Baby cage: You will NEED something so that you don’t have to hold your infant in your arms.
- A baby carrier that allows you to put a baby on your back will be useful for any hikes, for walking to calm your baby, and even belaying. Remember, that if you are lead belaying someone that is likely to pull you off the wall, I wouldn’t recommend this because it could jostle your little one. But I’ve carried my kids on my back when they were mad while belaying herds of other kids top-roped on the wall. I’ve done this so long at times that when I no longer had them on my back I was still swaying around like a lunatic while belaying.
- A baby cot/cage/tent has been SO HELPFUL for us. Eve never wanted to use ours because she had to be held constantly. However, my next two kids used it ALL THE TIME. And now, everyone wants to get in it together. Having something like this is helpful for naps at the crag, for playtime with toys and snacks so they can crawl around, and to keep them safe so that you can get some better climbing in or lead/lead belay. We’ve used the Little Life Arc 3 baby cot. Click here for a product review.