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Parent Tips: Is Your Child Ready To Master Climbing?

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Life changes when a child starts to climb. Suddenly, a new vertical world opens up, and your child, whose mobility was pretty well contained, can scale the side of a crib, a bookshelf or a couch, creating new risks and new adventures. For an older child, who has mastered the basics of climbing, regular opportunities to use this skill can promote strength and physical mastery.

The playground can be a great place to encourage exploration and build this skill. Climbing combines whole-body coordination and strengthening. When climbing up a ladder or a rock wall, the child must use his feet and arms together to allow for ascent and descent, activating many areas of the brain to work together. By utilizing both the left and right sides of the body, the left and right sides of the brain are activated and communication between them increases, improving bilateral coordination of your child's body.

When climbing, a child needs accuracy of movement to reach the next rung. This helps children learn to practice grading their movements and improves motor accuracy. Climbing supports global strengthening, as the arm, core and leg muscles work together to help a child move along the obstacles. But climbing can also be helpful in targeting specific muscles that can help make movement more efficient. Specifically, climbing can help your child turn his feet out, versus pointing his toes towards each other, so it can help strengthen muscles that provide stability when walking.

How do you encourage first-time climbers to learn this new skill?

Start giving them support around their waist or hips and letting them move up and down the ladder. A child won't have to worry about falling and can just scale the rungs, practicing the coordination between arms and legs. When children show interest in pulling up onto a ladder without waist support, we can stand behind them for safety but focus on coordination. You can then help with climbing by tapping their hands to reach the next rung and then following that motion with feet, by holding at the ankle and placing both feet up to the next rung. This breaks down the steps of climbing, to focus on one arm or leg at a time.

How do you improve climbing mastery?

Once a child can go up and down the ladder by themselves, we will want to promote symmetry and reciprocal movement patterns with climbing. That means they can alternate between left and right arms and legs to go up and down, similar to that pattern they use to crawl.

Caroline Ubben, PT, DPT, PCS


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