I'm not an ace climber but I enjoy it in all its different guises. What most appeals to me about climbing are the places it can take you and the camaraderie of the other climbers you meet. Since having children I’ve always been keen for them to experience what the climbing world has to offer. My kids are now 8 and 6 years old and we introduced them to climbing when they were toddling. We’ve had some great climbing trips and some disasters and I’m sure we’ll have many more (of both!). Climbing with young kids is not how I imagined it to be, but I’ve learnt a lot so far and there’ll be plenty more to learn as they get older. Here are the three main lessons I’ve learnt:
The most important lesson that I learnt early on is that when I take my kids climbing it’s all about them, it’s not an adult day out with a couple of kids in tow. If I want to go out and climb something challenging then it’s time to get the babysitters in. Also for me it’s about having an exciting and fun day out with the kids and not expecting them to be climbing superstars.
I’ve learnt to forget about climbing routes of a certain grade and instead I focus on making it low stress and fun. That’s not to say we don’t challenge our kids but just because you think they should be climbing F4+ doesn’t mean they either can, or want to when you plonk them at the bottom of a crag. I learnt this the hard way when we took the kids to Baggy Point in North Devon. Abseiling in was great fun but climbing out of an easy slabby Severe route proved a little traumatic! They both made it up eventually (they didn’t have much choice) but needed a lot reassurance, promises of chocolate cake at the top and portable “Mummy footholds” on the way up.
Indoor walls provide a much easier environment in which to take kids to climbing. However I find it easy to fall back into relaxed “grown up” pre-pub wall session attitudes. This has resulted in the kids getting bored and getting stuck at the top of a route! Naively I expected that when I took my kids to a climbing wall they would be totally focused on climbing. Why did I think this when there is so much else to do: jump on crash mats, swing on ropes, hide in lockers, select the biggest piece of chocolate cake from the café... Now when we go to the wall, instead of moving from route to route, we play climbing games: 'rescue the Troll' is the current favourite!
In a nutshell, what I’ve learnt about having a successful kids' climbing trip is: make it FUN, be realistic and don’t apply any unnecessary pressure, vary the style of climbing and take more food that you ever think you will need... and a couple of trolls!