Tree Climbing and Real Life Learning

-How the joy of climbing trees

provides optimal conditions for quality learning-

My children have spent many hours climbing trees in local woodland. There was a time when if I couldn’t see one of them, then I had to remember to look up as well as look everywhere else too.

Once when I was heavily pregnant, my eldest, who was 4 years old at the time, followed a ten year old friend up, what became known as, The Knobbly Tree. It was perfect for climbing. It was tall and strong and the branches had been mostly cut which left these perfect sized handles to use to hold or as platforms to climb up. The children managed to climb high. Despite the interjections from parents and reminders to consider the route down as you go up, my son became stuck. As I was pregnant, I wasn’t in a place to be able to physically help him. However, his ten year old friend came alongside him and instructed him, one step at a time, on how to make it down to the ground.

When my second son was about 6 year’s old, we attended some science activities which were hosted in someone’s garden. My son spent his entire time hanging from a tree in their garden. I also had a 2 year old in tow and if my calculations are correct them I would have been pregnant too.

Image by BexGoneWest

My eldest really enjoyed sitting with the group on the grass and watching the Science Show. There was a wide age range of children in the group and it was lovely seeing them altogether. My five year old was not sitting with the group, my five year old was swinging in a nearby tree in the garden. He was the only one not joining in. Even my two year old was happy sitting with me so wasn’t disturbing the group in any way. I remember wondering if he was ever going to learn anything. He just was not interested in what was going on in the science workshop.

Week after week he spent up in, on, swinging, climbing this tree. Then one week, when we were at home in the evening after going to one of these science workshops, my eldest was talking to his dad about the workshop and what they had done that day, when my second son started joining in. He talked about the activities that they had done, the experiments that they had been shown and the scientific explanations that had been shared.

And I remember thinking, of all those years I had been told that children needed to sit still, hands in laps, eyes front to be able to learn. In some schools they give this posture a name like, ‘good listening,’ or ‘good learning,’ Here was my child proving that it wasn’t true.

Children can learn whilst they are climbing a tree.

Some children need to be able to physically move their bodies so that they can concentrate on other things. Children have an ability to naturally know how they are most comfortable, how they can access the world around them, what feels good and right for them. This is sometimes revealed in them knowing what doesn’t suit them too. It’s not just that climbing trees is a great activity for children but that being in a place that they are comfortable provides optimal conditions for high quality learning.

Possible Learning Pathways: What is a child learning when they spend their time climbing trees?

  • Climbing trees brings children closer to nature, providing a rich sensory experience for the climber. They are able to see and feel the bark, the leaves, the buds, the colours, and observe their changing state through the seasons.
  • They are able to set their own level of challenge, test their own abilities, build confidence, and exercise their problem solving skills.
  • Physically they build strength, co-ordination and dexterity, as well as spatial and directional awareness (proprioception) They improve their large motor skills through moves such as stepping, pushing and pulling, as well as coordinating their limbs. As well as developing balance through the vestibular sensory system.

There are so many possibilities when playing in trees, from hide and seek, finding peace to read a book, hanging upside down, challenging yourself and friends, finding a great view, to discovering a tree swing. Plus, as an educational activity it is free! Exploring places and spaces to climb trees in becomes part of the process of finding your best trees, discussing and comparing locations, and expressing opinions on their favourites and least favourite trees to play in.

Taking time to observe and play alongside your own child will give you insight into what they are exploring today, what questions they are asking, what challenges they are setting themselves, and what skills they are developing. Whilst they are happy living their life, you can find confidence in what they are learning as they go.

Published by heiditsteel

Teacher turned Unschooler: passionate about autonomous education and supporting our children's natural inclination towards learning through play.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: