Why do rock climbers call boulder climbs problems? Because they are exactly that, a problem to solve. While in a commercial climbing gym, there are colored paths delineating the start and finish of the problem, no two climbers have to use the same sequence of hands and feet to reach the top. It is the same outside but even more puzzle-like, as there are no colored markings that separate a good hand or foothold from frictionless rock.
Thus, as much as rock climbing is a physical sport, it is equally a mentally engaging sport that forces the development of problem-solving skills. Children keen to play on the monkey bars and climb on couches and other not-to-be-climbed-on things are the perfect candidates to benefit from rock climbing. For one, rock climbing is a controlled environment that enables and fosters the love for climbing that children readily demonstrate. And two, as children develop, sharpening their problem-solving skills is a critical tool with real-world applications.
Rock climbing is a raw, testing, and difficult sport. This is not said to frighten you into thinking that your child will dislike climbing. Instead, it highlights that inevitably, in a child’s attempt to reach the top of the wall, they will fall, feel scared, become frustrated, or want to give up. In some instances, any of those outcomes may deter them from continuing. But, the more they rock climb (even better if they can do it in a structured class/coached setting), the less they will flee from a perceivably unsolvable problem and the more they will stick to the same climb, determined to make it to the top.
Thus, while having fun, burning off energy, and challenging themselves, children are developing their patience and mental fortitude and are broadening their perspective and ability to think outside the box.
The problem-solving process in rock climbing is unique because it can be as independent or collaborative as the climber wishes. Sometimes, the climber can work on a boulder or sport climb and figure out why they keep falling off after a few tries; no outside input is needed. Other times, no matter what they try, the climber feels stuck and unable to progress. When this happens, they can turn to other climbers and engage in a conversation where the fellow climber can help brainstorm or suggest a new idea. Learning to problem-solve collaboratively and achieve a productive outcome (in this case, sending the climb) teaches a child a valuable lesson for succeeding in school, group projects, and eventually the working world. It also teaches them
how to interact with others in a positive environment and appreciate the help that others can provide when facing a challenging task, whether climbing a max-effort boulder or turning in a thesis paper years later.
While any sport is a great way to keep a kid’s mind and body healthy, climbing is unique because it takes their problem-solving skills to the next level. There is always room to improve in climbing, so there will always be more challenging problems for them to face, which provides a life-long opportunity to use and refine those fundamental problem-solving skills developed in childhood.
Check out your local rock climbing gym’s website or socials to enroll your child in a kids' climbing program or learn more about local rock climbing offerings. Let us know if there are any other questions or comments on this topic down below!