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Climb a tree and give three cheers for skinned knees!

Children spend less and less time in nature these days and can grow up poor at judging risks if they don’t learn from experience. Outdoor play taught past generations a wide range of skills, and none is more challenging, fun and satisfying than climbing a tree!

Our Beeslack event was at the more extreme end of tree climbing (Photo: Eilidh Mair/WTML)
Our Beeslack event was at the more extreme end of tree climbing (Photo: Eilidh Mair/WTML)

The subject came to mind recently when we ran a spectacular tree climbing event at our Beeslack Wood near Penicuik outside Edinburgh. This was an elaborate affair involving a company called Wild Tree Adventures who took families with children as young as six right up high into the canopy with ropes and helmets. Obviously this was a fairly extreme form of tree climbing, but everybody loved it. It set me thinking about the more informal, unstructured play many of us enjoyed when we were younger.

Startling statistics

I bet most adults can still name their favourite climbing tree from when they were children. But do your children have one now? A recent study (Natural childhood by Stephen Moss for the National Trust) shows children today spend an average of 4 hours a week outdoors. Their parents spent 8.2 hours when they were children. We are in danger of losing nature from childhood.

So much to gain

So many children gain their love and respect for nature while climbing in trees, but there are a whole lot of other benefits too, including:

  • Problem solving. They have to think ahead and work out a strategy.
  • Socialising. Children often collaborate in getting the whole group up the tree. Brilliant for teamwork skills.
  • Exercise. The childhood obesity crisis is never far from the headlines. Climbing is a great workout.
  • Building confidence and self-esteem. A sense of achievement is a powerful thing.
  • Learning patience. We have all seen youngsters have a tantrum when they can’t immediately do something. Tree climbing is a great way to learn about patience and getting there in the end.
Children can develop skills and relationships as well as having great fun (Photo: Julie Howden/WTML)
Children can develop skills and relationships as well as having great fun (Photo: Julie Howden/WTML)

More than just a climbing frame

So select a sturdy tree with lots of wide, low branches, perfect to hide out in for hours. If climbing isn't for your gang then den building is another option. Find a stable tree as the base then start collecting logs to lean against the trunk. Make sure to use leaves, twigs and branches to make it sturdy and cosy.

Please remember to never cut anything down or damage the wood for your den. If you need some help, check out our online resources.

There's fun to be had for the less adventurous too! (Photo: Michael Heffernan/WTML)
There's fun to be had for the less adventurous too! (Photo: Michael Heffernan/WTML)

What about health and safety?

The poor old Health and Safety Executive is often portrayed as the spoilsport in all this, and is given as the reason children shouldn’t play conkers or climb trees. The reality though is that the HSE does not want such activities banned – quite the opposite.

The former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, Dame Judith Hackitt has said she often heard from employers that young people coming into the workforce are worse at calculating and managing physical risks than previous generations.

Dame Judith says outdoor play teaches young people how to deal with risk. Seeking to protect them from every conceivable hazard, rather than sensibly managing the genuine risks they face, ultimately leaves them in harm's way, not to mention robbing them of memories that last a lifetime.

A summer to remember

We couldn’t agree more. There is a balance to be struck of course. We are not encouraging reckless behaviour. But doesn’t every child deserve a skinned-knee summer, climbing trees, building dens and running around the woods?

A summer in the woods is a summer well spent (Photo: Julie Howden/WTML)
A summer in the woods is a summer well spent (Photo: Julie Howden/WTML)

The benefits are clear. Get your kids out into your nearest wood and give them a summer holiday to remember. Nature Detectives has lots of activities and suggestions to help you make the most of the woods and you can join as a family too.

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