Climbing is a great sport for children to get into. The benefits to their development are endless. It’s challenging - mentally and physically, it will boost their self confidence and it can get them having fun outdoors as well as having a total body workout every time they go. It develops core muscles, flexibility and coordination. Studies have shown it helps with motor skills, critical thinking and risk-assessing. It can be a family orientated sport too, it’s sociable at all levels and suitable for any age group.
Indoor climbing walls are a great place for children to experience climbing for the first time. Some have dedicated children’s climbing areas and beginner courses and most should have children’s equipment for hire. There will usually be a safety briefing and induction to the wall before you can climb.
Bouldering is the best entry level option as you’ll need little equipment and experience, plus the climbs are a little less heady. Children can usually climb in clean trainers but as they progress you might want to think of investing in some proper climbing shoes. Climbing is a skill most children do naturally and they will no doubt have a great time challenging themselves and achieving new levels. Familiarise yourself with the grading system in place at the wall and ensure they start on the easy ones. A few warm-up climbs with big holds on a slab (forward leaning angled wall) or vertical wall will help to avoid injury and grow confidence. Always encourage climbing down - not jumping down, and always keep your attention on them while they climb.
With children, especially the younger ones, it’s imperative to practice ‘spotting’ whilst bouldering. This is where the adult is standing behind the climber with their hands out just below the child’s bottom or lower back, maybe only a centimetre away, ready to catch them if they slip or fall, and also to give them a little push upwards when needed (also called a power-spot), or ready to help to place their feet on good holds. Stay engaged with the child climbing, and always keep them within arms reach until they are confident and more experienced. Encouragement also goes a long way!
For indoor top-rope climbing you’ll need a harness and climbing shoes. You can sometimes hire these from the wall. Think about using a full-body harness to start out with especially for young children and any kids under 40kg. More experienced and older children can move into a waist harness, but bear in mind that children have a higher centre of gravity and therefore have a higher chance of inverting on a fall. You’ll also need a skilled belayer. If you’re not a climber yourself, a great option is kids group sessions that are run by the Wall themselves with qualified coaches. If the climbing wall has auto-belays, these are a brilliant way of introducing children to challenging themselves, but always personally double check that the harness is fitted correctly and that the child is clipped in safely before any climbing begins!
Outdoors climbing can start with easy scrambling on boulders and at crags but only let them try what is well within their capacity. Only ever set up an outdoor top-rope if you are an experienced outdoor climber yourself and know exactly what you’re doing. Or look into outdoor coached sessions specifically for children, run by climbing walls who have a wealth of experience and full knowledge of the sport and its risks.