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Kids want to climb too

My daughter has been talking about learning to climb and I would like to encourage her (while keeping her as safe as possible). However I know absolutely nothing about climbing and my daughter is only 7 years old right now. My questions are as follows:

1) What are some of the risks associated with climbing? (Other than the obvious risk of falling.)

2) Where would I start looking for places for her to learn from? I have no idea how to tell if any place offering climbing instruction is quality or not. What should I be looking for? Are books a good start for now or should I be looking for more hands on instruction? Okay, that was 3 questions rolled into one, but they're all of the same vein.

3) As climbers, do you think it would be wise to wait a while before getting her involved in climbing pursuits or do you think it is ok for her to start learning the basics now? On the one hand, I'm all for kids pursuing their intrests, but on the other hand I'm wondering if this is the type of thing better left until she's a bit older.

4) Are there any books or links you can recommend about climbing in general or El Capitan specifically? Climbing El Capitan is her ultimate dream.

Any other information you think would be useful is welcome. Thanks!

As someone who teaches kids to climb and adults to be climbing instructors, I will make the following observations:

1. Biggest risk is addiction. In my case, I started scrambling as a very young kid on all sorts of things, and here I am, an Old GreyBeard, still climbing on rocks, mountains, frozen waterfalls, etc. Kids seem to take naturally to climbing (our ape ancestors's heritage). And they will outclimb adults. More seriously, there are scrapes, bumps, and bruises. But there is safety gear made for kids - helmets, kid-sized harnesses, etc. If you have them learn in kid classes at an accredited climbing gym (not all gyms are accredited), they are quite safe, more so than learning to ride a bicycle.

2. Not knowing where you live, I can only make the general suggestion of finding an accredited climbing gym near you. YMCA's sometimes have climbing gyms and kids classes. Books are no way to learn climbing, especially for a 7 yo. Hands on is the only way. Best way to judge a kids climbing program is to go, observe, talk to the instructors (the actual instructors, not the nice lady at the front desk), and ask lots of questions about their accreditation and how they go about teaching the kids. What is the adult to kid ratio (should be less than 6 kids per instructor)? How do they maintain their gear? Do they use gear made for kids's sizes? Look at the harnesses and helmets - they should have the "CE" or "UIAA" logo on them (climbing standards association). The ropes should be real climbing ropes (I have seen gyms that used other kinds of ropes). Take a look at he ropes yourself - are they old, dirty, fuzzy, breaks in the sheath? Or are they in good condition? Is the floor padded? If they run outdoor programs, do they take along and use crash pads or use other ground padding?

3. Nah, let her start now. Better climbing than a lot of other things.

4. There are some good books about kids climbing. I think Alicia can recommend some.

Most important thing you didn't ask about, Dad - don't push her hard. Encourage and support her, and realize there will be a few "bumpos", scrapes, bruises. That's fine - as Barb says about all my scrapes and bruises - "Goes with the territory." She will make mistakes and fall a few times (that's what the rope, harness, and helmet are for). And she will get on climbs that are too hard for her today (but watch her scramble up them a few days from now. You can be involved directly as a volunteer belayer. She will want to back down - it takes a while to get used to the exposure, so going up 5 feet and getting lowered the first few times is ok. Soon it will be 10, 15, 20 feet, as high as the gym's walls. As she accomplishes breakthroughs, like climbing higher, getting back on the wall after a fall, climbing a harder route, give her little rewards - a carabiner of her own, some chocks, or a BIG reward, a cam (that's expensive, though!).

Oh yeah, books - most climbing books are written for adults. And a lot emphasize the scary parts. I don't suggest these, since she may not be ready for them. Some of the older chronicles are good, though. 10 or 12 is a better age for most climbing books.

Yea, let her learn. It's safer than the alternative - freestyle tree climbing. Find someone like Bill, so your daughter will learn the wisdom of climbing as well.

Thanks for the advice guys. I think I'm worried about the safety because I don't know much about it. I've done some googling though and learned a bit more about the sport, so I feel better about the safety factor.

Bill S,

I think I read somewhere that you live in the bay area, right? I live up near Sacramento. Rocklin/Roseville/Citrus Heights area. Do you happen to know of any good climbing schools up here? When I looked on google I found one rock wall run by the city of Roseville, but it doesn't look like an actual climbing school. It looks more like a place to let kids have fun on a wall without any instruction about the technical stuff (knots, belaying, etc). It does say they have staff put the harness on the kid to make sure it fits right, but it doesn't say anything about actual instruction. Here's their link Then I found another place called Sacramento Pipeworks

it looks like they have gyms in the bay area too. Have you heard of them? Do you know if either place has a good reputation? Also, if you know of anywhere a bit closer to the Roseville area, I'd love to hear about it. Sacramento isn't super far, but I'd rather find somewhere closer if I can. Thanks! :)

4. There are some good books about kids climbing. I think Alicia can recommend some.

I actually don't have any recommendations for kid climbing books, though I'd also love to hear Bill's recommendations.

My kindergarten-age son has chosen (with no pressure at all) to forego T-ball season this spring and instead go to the climbing wall at our local YMCA/Boys and Girls Club. I have nothing against T-Ball, but I'm personally glad that with climbing (like skiing, which he loves, and hiking, canoeing, camping, etc.) that it's something we can do together as a family.

There's not any instruction at our YMCA, just a certified belayer at certain hours, but they have the equipment for kids, and the wall.

The summer day camp he'll attend, run by the same YMCA, also has a climbing wall and ropes courses, which he's very interested in.

I wish they'd let one or both of us get approved to belay our own family at the YMCA, but so far that hasn't been an option. Our YMCA has so many financial issues right now, that I just hope they keep the wall open.

Good luck, coffeehound. I'm sorry I don't have any local recommendations for you.

November 28, 2020
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