I can still remember a climbing tree - my favourite one in the city - that used to sit next to the playground on Kits Beach in Vancouver.
From the outside, it looked like any other bushy tree, but inside, it was a web of intertwined branches that stretched outwards like the steps of a ladder.
Looking up from the inside, the branches seemed to go on forever, winding around the trunk until they touched the bright opening at the top of the tree. I would climb to the top effortlessly, and then wave to my mom from the opening in the sky.
Not once do I remember my mom yelling for me to come down, or cautioning me to “be careful.” Instead, she would just smile and wave back at me.
The other day, as I watched my son and his friends scale a tree in my backyard, my heart began to race as his foot reached for a branch that sat above the height of my head. As he took each step upwards, my comfort level sank. Part of me wanted to cheer him on, while the other part of me wanted to shout for him to get down immediately before he breaks something.
It didn’t take long for the latter part of me to kick in.
My son regularly engages in one-on-one sparring matches in his karate class, and I watch on without worry. He plays soccer and flag football and I rarely wince when he falls or takes a hard hit. Yet, when he climbs a tree, I clam up and call him down. Why am I so afraid of something so natural and inherently safe?
Earlier this week I came across an article on a site called TreeHugger titled, “Climbing trees is safer than organized sports” and I was quick to click, hoping for some factual evidence to help ease my fears.
In the article, a study conducted by the University of Phoenix is quoted, sharing, "Researchers surveyed 1,600 parents who let their children climb trees and found that the most common injury by far was scraped skin. Only 2 percent of the parents responded that their child had broken a bone and even fewer had suffered from a concussion. Meanwhile, more than 3.5 million American children under the age of 14 receive medical treatment for injuries from organized sports every year."
So statistically speaking, our children are much safer hanging from trees than they are playing organized sports each year.
The study goes on to share that, “Outdoor play activities involve problem solving, critical thinking, and taking risks. Learning from trial and error often happens in these outdoor play activities. Tree climbing encourages adventure, creativity, and inspiration. Introducing children to spatial awareness very early in their motor development is helpful. The various levels of height and space in tree climbing provide children opportunities for challenges and risk negotiation.”
After reading this, I realize just how overly (and unnecessarily) cautious I have been when it comes to letting my kids climb trees. It’s in our nature to want to explore the outdoors, and the best way to connect with nature is to do so in the same way that we did when we were kids.
Next time my children try to scale a new shrub, I’m going to take a deep breath, bite my tongue, and wave quietly when they reach the top, just as my mom did for me.
Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, writer, editor, and marketing consultant. Find her on Twitter @biancabujan and Instagram @bitsofbee.