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Introducing young children to climbing.

Submitted by fiend on 2005-04-11

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Here are some steps which should help you to introduce your child(ren) to climbing.

Step 1. Supervised climbing. Have your child climb in a top rope situation (ie. a climb that has the rope anchors preset at the top of the climb.) This can most easily be accomplished at a gym but can also be applied for outdoor climbing. Here are two ways this can be achieved.
a) Your child can be enrolled in a climbing group/class in which a trained staff member will take care of all of the child's safety needs, including: holding the ropes, putting on harness properly, and tying into the rope. Most gyms will offer some sort of birthday party or kids climb which will cover the aforementioned.
b) You can take a lesson and then be responsible for your own child's safety.

The benefits of b) are that you are not restricted to the two or three hours that the gym sets a side. Also most gyms will ask for a minimum number of children to fill out a group, raising the cost considerably. For generally the same price as a kid's group you can pay for a day pass which is valid for the entire day, allowing you to choose when to come in and how little or long you'd like to stay.

Step 2. Make sure your child actually enjoys climbing enough to pursue it. What often happens is that a child will climb for the first time and absolutely love it. Subsequent trips to the gym will reveal that climbing is hard, and the learning/ability curve steeper than anticipated. Be sure that your child is interested in climbing before purchasing the necessary equipment and stick with rentals in the beginning.

Step 3. Purchasing gear This is all your child needs to start climbing:

  • An adjustable harness.

That's it, everything else is optional. At this stage it is definitely not recommended to go beyond shoes and a chalkbag though. Remember that climbing shoes should be reasonably snug and are a lot of money to spend on something that will be quickly outgrown. Check for used shoes on sale, such as in our Used Gear forum, or even gear swaps with other parents. Do not let over-zealous store employees try to fatten their comission by selling you a lot of fancy new gear. I bought a small set of quick draws from a parent who had brought his son to the gym once, and then gone to a not-so-reputable store asking what gear he needed to outfit his 13 year old son to climb in the gym. The employee sold him 5 sets of draws with useless long slings, costing aproximately $90. These were totally useless and the child would not have been able to use them for several years. By the end of the month the child had given up climbing altogether.

Step 4. Advanced learning. Once your child has been climbing for a while and depending on his age, responsibility level, and the rules of your local gym, your child can learn to belay, tie in, etc. You must be honest with yourself. Very few children younger than 13 are responsible enough to hold the ropes. Be sure that your child is ready for this kind of responsibility. Done properly, climbing is one of the safest sports there is, but you have to realize that, done incorrectly, someone's life is at stake.

For any parent with a child interested in climbing, I would recommend learning to climb yourself. It will give you a shared interest and activity which can last for a long time. I am 22 years old and have been climbing with my mother for the last 7 years. We actually just returned from a week long climbing trip last night and she seems to be out climbing more than I am these days.

Please note that this article was intended for those with little or no climbing knowledge and if there are any terms I have used that you did not understand then please refer to our Climbing Dictionary.


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