The adrenaline junkie. The weekend warrior. There is a demographic that is often not talked about in recreational sport: climbing mums. There’s the van driving soccer moms yelling at the sidelines, of course, but in a league of their own are the mums that belay, spot and lead the way in the climbing gym.
I would see them sometimes at one of the various Camp5s with their mini-mes on weekday afternoons. Mostly I was in awe of the tiny bodies that they were belaying up the wall. A fearless four-footer scaling a 15-meter wall is always an impressive sight. It is however not unusual to see. Since its opening Camp5 Climbing Gym has encouraged families to climb together. Any child under eight climbs for free if they are under the supervision of a competent adult climber. But it really wasn’t until I became a mum myself that I fully appreciated having a wide-open space for kids to become confident with their bodies’ abilities, while hopefully, getting a spot of fitness in for yourself as well.
Our little tyke was about seven months old when he started to crawl. Oh, we were so proud! But we were not prepared for the heart-attack-inducing future on our cards. Having mastered the tummy shuffle he next sought greater challenges. Higher challenges. First came standing while holding the railing of his cot. Yes, this seems normal. Then he started the vertical crawl. His little toes spread in weird directions (did you know that babies only have one bone in their feet when they are born? Fun fact!) He would use his stumpy feet, and armed with a grip that could airlock a spaceship (man that grip!) and drag, push, pull himself up everything. No piece of furniture was spared. Overnight the drawer locks were installed, safety locks were put on all our apartment windows and progressively more and more of the floor was covered in foam puzzle mat.
His fearlessness was accompanied by numerous head knocks that were happening because of his gigantic unbalanced head. There were tears. Mostly mine. My anxiety levels were through the roof. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be stopped. Climbing is an important part of a child’s motor skill development, building strength and balance. So rather than try and fight nature, maybe we could direct this energy?
So, when is the right time to take a kid climbing? Well, the hubby has always said “when they start climbing the furniture at home”. This helicopter mom did not really expect it to be quite so soon. Anyway, we brought him into Camp5 Eco City to mostly look at the kids boulder, check out the kids’ slides and stumble around on the mats. He didn’t get it AT ALL, but the coffee is great there by the way (a local roast Forest Dream) so it was never a wasted trip. Eventually on one such foray, at sixteen months old and around the same time he started experimenting with walking on tiptoes, he took his first unaided (heavily spotted) step, six inches off the ground and up the kids boulder wall. All of two seconds. Woohooooo! We’re climbing!
Now, I am not saying this is the right time for all kids! Some kids are just getting the hang of walking and talking. There is no rush. Also, it’s not so much that you should start them early, rather, the trick is not to leave it too late. It has been suggested that the ideal age to start a kid climbing is between four and seven years of age. When they are old enough to listen to instructions, but before we have brainwashed our personal fears onto them. Research shows that we are not born with a fear of heights, the fear is learnt. Either from falling down themselves, or equally probably, having the fear drilled into them.
Even if you have missed that cue, and you end up spending most of the time coaxing, pleading and encouraging your fearful spawn to crawl up a wall. The confidence and self-esteem, body awareness and problem-solving skills that a kid gains when they learn to climb are priceless.
There are a few ways of getting into climbing at Camp5. There’s the Try Climbing Session which is an hour of guided climbing great for getting a taste of what climbing is all about. But after that, the general advice you get from Camp5 is for parents to get certified on the Basic Wall Course which is a four-hour course that teaches you to be a competent belayer and a safe climber. Then you can bring them climbing anytime! If you don’t have time to climb yourself Camp5 does offer a group programme for kids called Cicak Club, for kids aged 4-13. The classes are progressive and overtime, they will learn much of what is taught on the Basic Wall Course, with a lot more fun and games thrown in.
With current CMCO restrictions, children under 13 years old are not allowed into climbing gyms. But when they can, I for one am looking forward to it! I will then send him up the wall rather than have him driving me up mine at home. In the meantime, you’ll have to excuse me as I swallow my heart and attend to safely spotting my child as he experiments with somersaults.
– contributed by a helicopter mum Renai Mattu