When children begin climbing it opens a whole new world of dangers for parents, however it also opens a whole new world of opportunity for kids. Here are some tips to give you some peace of mind while allowing your child the chance to explore and develop. Climbing is an essential part of gross motor development. It is the best and easiest way to develop gluteal muscle strength in active kids (See Buns of Steel for more information). Not only does it develop glut strength, it also helps assist with coordination for upper and lower body motor planning, as well as developing upper extremity strength. When I begin to work on climbing up stairs with a child I often remind parents that although they will now have to worry about their child accessing the stairs, this will help them with their overall strength and ability to progress through their gross motor skills. I recently took a course where climbing was described as ‘a child’s job’ while they were growing.
This can start with climbing up and down the stairs and progress to climbing onto the couch or using ladders at the park. Each element of climbing has benefits for your child. One benefit of climbing up and down stairs is that it mimics a crawling motion and can encourage your child to begin crawling if they aren’t already. Also it works on reciprocal (alternating) motions of the arms and legs which is important for developing crawling and walking skills. By maintaining strong gluteal muscles, your child will have an easier time shifting their weight forward over their base of support while standing and walking, as well as narrow their base of support so they aren’t walking with their legs way out to the side.
Using the couch or the bed as a climbing toy offers different challenges and benefits than climbing up and down the stairs. This type of climbing teaches your child how to shift their weight forward onto their arms and trunk so that they can bring their legs up. This is a useful skill for kids who want to learn how to climb out of the swimming pool. It involves motor planning and weight shifting front and back as well as side to side. This will also promote strong arms and legs for your child while continuing to develop their sense of where their body is in space. I often see kids at pre-school or daycare and some of the kids plastic sliding toys don’t have a ladder to climb up so it is amazing to watch the kids try to figure out how they need to move to get their body up so they can go down the slide. Talk about persistance and problem solving!
Another form of climbing is going up and down (yes down also) the ladders at the playground. This works on alternating feet as well as the ability to use one leg at a time and not need both legs to push up. It also maintains nice flexibility in their legs while developing, once again, their gluteal strength. There are a plethora of types of ladders and I have found that it is often easiest to start on simple ones and then encourage them to branch out. If your child is a little timid then make a game out of it. I have often let the kids pick which ladder they want to do but if they keep gravitating back to the easiest then I encourage them to do 1 step on a harder one. When they master that then go for 2 steps, and so on. Its amazing how quickly they will have the confidence and ability to do it on their own!
Remember, safety is important but so is exploration!