If you’re a parent, you don’t need anyone to tell you that kids love to climb. You’ve seen it for yourself first hand as your toddler scales the furniture or your kindergartner attempts to climb any tree with a branch within reach. But do you know why kids have a natural drive to climb? Read on to find out and learn how you can support this important developmental activity!
1. Vestibular system development
We do a ton of things to support the development of our kids’ fine and gross motor skills, language, and cognitive function. But their vestibular system? Not something most of us have heard of. Our vestibular system is largely responsible for our balance and how well we can orient ourselves in a space without the use of our other senses like sight and sound. In other words, if you can close your eyes, stand on one foot, and still keep your balance, you have a strong vestibular system to thank for that!
Climbing, spinning, and hanging upside down are some of the best ways to support the development of the vestibular system. It’s thought that this is why young kids are so naturally drawn to these behaviors! Providing safe opportunities to climb is a great way to help your kids develop strong balance and enjoy physical activity throughout their lives1.
2. Risk-taking play
Risky play may not sound like a great idea… but most psychologists consider it an important part of childhood and healthy development2. When kids engage in risk-taking play (like climbing high or jumping from the swings), they learn to evaluate risks, take caution, and gain confidence3. So, while we’re usually tempted to shout “Be careful!” at the first sign our kids are going to climb that ladder too fast or try to go down the slide backward, we better serve them when we let them explore age-appropriate risks.
Of course, there is such a thing as too much risk, and parents should always make sure their kids are taking risks within safe contexts. (Free play at the park? Sounds great. Playing in a busy street? Not so much.) Kids climbing structures provide a great balance of safety and reasonable risk for most age groups, allowing kids to have fun and explore their natural desire to take risks..
3. Memory and cognitive function
Research suggests that climbers can provide cognitive benefits as well as physical ones. One study found that participants’ working memory improved after engaging in dynamic activities like climbing and balancing4. Researcher Ross Alloway points to benefits for kids as well as adults: “By taking a break to do activities that are unpredictable and require us to consciously adapt our movements, we can boost our working memory to perform better in the classroom and the boardroom.”
4. Strength, coordination, and exercise
It’s no surprise that climbing helps kids develop strong muscles and motor skills. Toddlers are naturally driven to climb to develop their gross motor skills5, and this inclination lasts well into school-age years as kids continue to develop their coordination and muscle strength.
Providing opportunities to climb helps kids easily fit in the CDC’s recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day6– something that is becoming tougher to accomplish as screens compete for kids’ time.
KidKraft’s climbers and swing sets are a fun, safe way to do just that! (To see all of our swing sets specifically built with climbing in mind, select “Rock Wall” under the Play Features drop-down menu to refine your search results.)
1 How to Improve the Vestibular System
2 Children’s Risky Play from an Evolutionary Perspective
3 Why Kids Need to Take Risks in Life
4 Climbing a tree can improve cognitive skills, researchers say
5 Why Is Your Toddler Climbing on Everything?
6 How much physical activity do children need?