The power of tree climbing

Since we started a tree climbing program at Riveredge three years ago, we’ve had constant reminders of the power of adventure and exploration on kids (and adults!) From an increased sense of self confidence to a new appreciation for the world of around them, the impacts are tangible and numerous. We didn’t want you to have to take our word for it, though, so we went straight to the source. In this guest post, Cathy Gettelfinger, the mother of Ryan, a three year Tree Climbing Club member, shares what tree climbing has meant for her son and her family. Thanks so much to Cathy for this beautiful write-up!

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We live in an amazing world.  It can also be a very busy and full world.  Our lives are often occupied with school, work, sports, errands, and endless digital distractions.  Our children have opportunities to accomplish fantastic things that one or two generations ago would not have been imagined.  We all want our children to get the best start in their lives that they possibly can, and we make sacrifices and work hard so they will be successful.  We make plans, juggle appointments, and overlap schedules so we can fit as much as we possibly can into every day.

It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of constantly planning for the future.  But by doing so, we may never be able to slow down enough to enjoy the “now.”  This is one thing Nature can help us with.  It can help us stop, listen and breathe.

Nature does not come out only on sunny days, or hide from a strong wind.  It does not plant itself only in ground where it will grow strong roots.  Nature exists in every moment of every day, no matter what.  Nature does not live a perfect, orderly life, yet it has complete freedom.  Nature doesn’t yearn for anything other than what exists right there, right then.  Nature doesn’t care about what will happen in 10 minutes, or tomorrow, or next month.  It is true to itself, and it is content.  There is something about witnessing that absolute persistence that is both humbling and inspiring.

The Tree Climbing program at Riveredge has been such a breath of fresh air (literally) for us.  It’s more than ropes and saddles and the goal of going up in a really, really big tree.  Tree climbing gets people outside into Nature, off the pavement, away from video games, and into the woods for a little while.  That is a great start, but it does so much more.  Tree climbing gives our kids a place to find balance physically, mentally and emotionally.  They don’t even know it’s happening – they just know they are having fun.  They come out of it with tired arms or legs, but they have such a renewed energy and attitude.

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There are so many positive effects to come out of a morning or afternoon spent in the trees.  Free and unstructured time.  Personal fears relax.  Discovery and investigation.  Our brains are given a chance to slip out of the normal thought process and get creative.  Instead of specific instructions and predictable outcomes, our kids are set loose to decide their own favorite activities in the trees.  Sometimes it’s swinging on the ropes, experimenting with pushing off and spinning.  Many times it’s reaching a high branch, and sitting still, and enjoying the dappled sky through the tree canopy.   Whether laughing with a friend, or enjoying the quiet and thinking about nothing particular, it seems to come naturally around the trees.

Nature is random and does not follow the patterns of man-made things.  When kids get out in the woods and investigate the sticks, rocks, bugs and mud up close, they will find infinite variety.  They will see and touch things not found in our schools, homes, or manicured yards.  Whether the view is from high up in a tree, or down close to the ground, the kids will be challenged about what to think, or do about it.  And the answer is often to do nothing, but just observe and appreciate it.

Eventually, after some time in the woods, we will go back to our lives outside Riveredge.  We may need to remind ourselves of that feeling in the woods, in the trees.  And for our children, and ourselves, we should pause, and let Nature help us stop, listen, and breathe.  Enjoy this moment.

If you would like your own chance to relax and commune with nature Riveredge has many tree climbing options.  You may attend an open tree climb, schedule your own group climb or birthday party, climb with Summer Camp, or join one of our three tree climbing clubs.  For more information please contact Steff at smerten@riveredge.us or visit https://www.riveredgenaturecenter.org/treeclimbing/.

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