The Power of Play & Climbing on Childhood Development

We’re drawn to play - all of us! Whether we’re 6 months or 80 years old, there are valuable lessons to be learned, as well as physical and mental health benefits that playtime has on the brain.

Increasingly, researchers are uncovering the values of one of the most developmentally important forms of play - climbing. We’re born to do it! We’re explorers, thrill-seekers, problem-solvers, and above all, curious. And we don’t just love climbing for the excitement and the challenge - there are biological reasons at play that attract us to it. Climbing aids in children’s mental and physical development, and has been shown to improve creativity, memory, and critical thinking abilities.

 The same cognitive functions involved in solving puzzles and using logic are in play when it comes to climbing.

The same cognitive functions involved in solving puzzles and using logic are in play when it comes to climbing.

1. Climbing develops our spatial awareness, motor skills & memory

Climbing plays a key role in early childhood motor skills development. A study from PlayCore found evidence that climbing at a young age helps hone spatial and directional awareness, and also boosts physical skills such as balance, hand and foot coordination, and agility.

Using both hands and feet, and dealing with varying inclines, levels, and distances between platforms has been shown to enhance children’s proprioception - the ability to sense one’s own body’s position and movement in space… and we’d be lost without that ability!

In a 2015 study, psychologists from the University of North Florida found that “proprioceptively dynamic activities like climbing” can dramatically, and quickly, improve core executive functions like working memory. This is crucial not just for children’s processing of information, but for developing behavioral and some gross motor skills. The study showed that just two hours after climbing, participants’ capacity for working memory had increased by 50 percent.

 

2. Students who climb show higher academic performance

The benefits of monkeying around on climbers don’t stop at just coordination and motor skills - they affect kids’ performance in classrooms too. A 2008 study profiled the Phys Ed department at a Naperville, Illinois junior high school. They redesigned their gym class curriculum, replacing traditional sports with activities like dancing, bicycling, and climbing, and it wasn’t long before the school began seeing the results.

You guessed it - an hour a day of climbing lead to major academic improvements schoolwide! In addition to higher measures of physical fitness, the school reported fewer disciplinary incidents, and higher academic performance school-wide. The researchers concluded that this type of play was responsible for the students’ measurably enhanced memory, concentration, and mood.

Other school systems followed suit by swapping their old gym class curriculums with activities such as climbing. A western Pennsylvania school saw its standardized reading and math test scores skyrocket, from below average to 18 percent above average. An elementary school in Kansas City reported a 67 percent drop in suspensions from the previous year, and a marked increase in literacy, after implementing the climbing curriculum.

3. Kids solve problems by climbing at an early age

If you’ve ever gone to a bouldering rock gym, you’ll know that they call the routes that climbers take “problems.” That’s because your brain treats climbing structures like a series of problems that you need to overcome. The same cognitive functions involved in solving puzzles and using logic are in play when it comes to climbing.

Climbing at an early age teaches kids to adapt to new or unknown environments, and encourages goal-setting, determination, and planning. Whether you’re halfway up a rock wall, rappelling on belay down a cliffside, or scurrying up one of our sculptures, climbing is a puzzle waiting to be solved. It shows kids the value of decision-making and following through, while also boosting logic, memory, problem-solving skills, and concentration.

 

 Many young climbers learn valuable lessons about teaching, listening and communicating.

Many young climbers learn valuable lessons about teaching, listening and communicating.

4. When kids climb together, they learn lifelong social skills

Climbing is far from a solitary endeavor - exploring a structure and working your way to the top encourages cooperation. Climbing is also an activity where each accomplishment is often celebrated, whether it’s reaching the top, or just doing something you didn’t know you were capable of. By exploring a climbing structure and working together with other children to forge a path to the top, many young climbers learn valuable lessons about teaching, listening and communicating.

When kids climb together, they are using the same social and cooperative skills that they will use with friends, in school, and at work later in life. Cooperation builds trust, and trust is at the center of every friendship.

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It’s clear why people of all ages seem to love climbing so much! The same requirements and challenges presented on a climbing structure apply elsewhere in life - from problem-solving, to sequencing, to spatial thinking, to memory. So it’s no surprise that climbing is skyrocketing in popularity.  

The Hangar offers kids climbing classes and school group bookings.  

Registration is now open for our  Summer Camp Program.