In January of 2012 I met the love of my life while searching for a rock climber on Christian Mingle. (Yes, I am walking commercial) I was 42, never married, single mom, IT professional, living in Northern Virginia. Six months later I had quit my job, sold my house, got married, and moved to Rapid City, South Dakota. Not only did my life completely change, I also became a grandmother of four within our first two and a half years of marriage.
To say I was apprehensive about grandbabies so soon into marriage is an understatement. But, three years later, I could not love them more. I am captivated by their smiles, their laughter, their unconditional love, and their unlimited capacity for new experiences and adventure. Watching them discover new things, overcome challenges, and accomplish each new phase has been a thrill to witness.
Thankfully, most of my new family also loves rock climbing. Climbing, and many other activities, has been a way to bring us all closer together. Family adventures have been a wonderful bonding experience as we learn to blend our families in a way that only God could have designed.
That being said, climbing can be a challenge with babies and toddlers. They need naps, snacks (LOTS OF SNACKS!), and a lot of entertainment. My husband’s children and their spouses are exceptional parents who have exposed their children early to many different adventures. Some of which I had incorrectly assumed were too much for little ones.
They understand the importance of teaching children early to love adventure, be adaptable to their surroundings, and sleep anywhere. Their patience and hard work has resulted in easy going, adventurous toddlers that can ski, sit for hours on a boat, swim in a lake, camp, hunt pheasant in back packs, and ride 4-wheelers. They enjoy just about any adventure mom and dad can dream up. For me, the best of all adventures is watching them learn to climb.
We recently had Sophia and Aidall out with us for a full day of climbing. Aidall is still a little too young to climb, but loves to hang out, eat dirt, and play with whoever’s attention he can grab. Sophia loves to climb, but can get a little scared. To help motivate her Dan, Sophia’s dad, strategically placed animal crackers up the route. Each cracker was a new goal, with a yummy reward.
Taking babies and toddlers out for a full day of climbing requires a lot of patience, teamwork, and realistic expectations. After much trial and error, here are a few tips from our family that have worked.
- Start taking them with you as young as possible. Since Sophia and Aidall have been hanging out at the crag since they were infants, a day of climbing is second nature.
- Set realistic expectations for your day. You are not going to hike two miles into your dream climbing area with kids in tow. You are also not in for a really hard day of climbing.
- Be willing to be flexible. If the kids have had enough, you have had enough.
- Climb with people who love having your kids around. It takes a village is an understatement. When you are climbing, other people in your party will need to step in and help.
- Make sure they have shade, seats, and a place to nap. We secure them in a hammock or lay out blankets.
- Bring plenty of food, snacks, and water.
- Make the day fun for them. This will teach them to love the outdoors. You can hang them from a tree in their harness and make them swing. That will always produce laughter.
- Choose a climbing area that is safe for them to run around. A ledge or sketchy belay area will not work.
- Your climbing area should also contain a route easy enough for them to climb. We have several areas in the Black Hills that have easy and difficult routes all in the same location. This make it fun for both them, and you.
Dave and I have gotten so much joy working with Sophia’s parents as she learns to climb. Helping a toddler overcome their fears can be a challenge. But, if you make it fun, safe, and reassure them along the way, climbing will quickly become a favorite pastime.
Here are some tips for teaching climbing to toddlers:
- Find them the smallest, most comfortable harness possible. I recommend the Edelridge Fraggle II. There are lots of harnesses that fit children 4 years, and older. Trying to find one for a little 2-year-old that weighs only 21 pounds is a little more difficult. Make a big deal about their new climbing harness. It is all part of the adventure.
- Find sticky shoes. When you are climbing with a toddler size 4, there are not any climbing shoe options. The smallest climbing shoe available is the La Sportiva Stickit Climbing Shoe, starting at size 8. For shoe sizes smaller, we have found that Keens work great not only for climbing, and hiking to the crag.
- Teach them to keep their feet wide apart when climbing and at rest. When toddlers first start learning to climb, they do not understand their center of gravity. When they stop to rest, if their feet are not wide enough apart, you might see them start to spin around. Training them to keep their stance a little wider will help them to feel more in control, freeing them up to be brave and continue climbing.
- Make sure they are wear a helmet. It is amazing how quickly they can stumble and flip around the rope.
- Make climbing a game with toys, stuffed animals, or treats. We climb for crackers. By placing animal crackers throughout the route, Sophia forgets about her fears, and sets a goal to make it to the next cracker. Before knowing it, she’s pretty high off the ground. If you hook a little bag on their harness, they can fill their bag and enjoy their snack later.
- Set up a second line and climb alongside them. During the climb, you should be talking them through their next steps, providing assistance, encouraging them, and reminding them to keep their feet wide. You will also need to help them lower since their body weight is not enough to be lowered on their own.
- Never push too hard. Climbing should always be fun and something they choose. If you push, or ignore where they are emotionally, they may learn to hate climbing.
- Remember that the hard work and patience will pay off in a short amount of time. Before you know it you will have teenagers that can outclimb you every time.
Being a part of my grandchildren’s lives is a far greater blessing then I could have imagined. It is also an honor, and a tremendous responsibility. Loving grandparents will impact a toddler’s life, and help shape their faith, ambitions, passions, and dreams. Sharing your love for Jesus, and adventure can build a bond that will withstand the test of time, and the challenges life will present. I cannot think of anything more amazing and precious.