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The Case For Letting Your Kid Climb Trees

When I was a girl, I loved to climb this tall pine tree that stood alongside our house. I would go all the way to the top. From there, I was higher than the house itself and could see over the rooftops.

It opened up a whole new world to me. I would imagine I was a bird flying through the neighborhood. My mother would step out the front door and scream at me to come down, abruptly ending my fantasy. "You're going to break your neck!" she'd yell.

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Of course, that was a possibility. But I didn't care. And she never forbade me from climbing the tree. She allowed me to roam the neighborhood and the woods surrounding it freely, too. With no supervision. I spent a great deal of time exploring a nearby creek. Alone.

Perhaps that is why nature continues to be so important to me as an adult. It's my happy place. There is nothing I enjoy more than a long walk through the woods, or on a beach. Will my child ever feel that way? Or will the lack of the type of experiences I had take a toll?

Yes, I recognize the world is a different place today than when I grew up. Things can't be the way they were then. Not completely. But there is something special about exploring nature. Connecting with it. And I fear not enough kids today get to experience that.

Living in Florida, we can be outside and active nearly year round. Our city has one of the largest, diverse, and most unique urban park systems in the nation, with over 400 park and recreational sites within the city limits. We also have state and national parks here. Still, even though children in Florida have ample opportunity to explore nature. But beyond the basic walking along a designated path, I don't see kids today doing very much of it.

I wish I could watch my child climb trees and explore the world around her with wild abandon like I used to. With her epilepsy, we are under doctor's orders not to allow her to climb more than 3 feet high without proper safety equipment.

Question is: Would I let her even if she could? It is rare today to see any child doing so. Occasionally, I have come across a photo in my Facebook feed of one of my friend's kids in a tree. It makes me so happy.

I can't remember the last time I actually saw a child climbing a tree in person. The exception being a local beach filled with dead, fallen trees. Their branches reach toward the sky, and kids love to climb them. But its not the same as a live, standing tree.

I'd like to say I would allow my child to climb trees if I could. Sure, I'd be nervous about her getting hurt. But there are plenty of other activities she engages in that include some level of risk. Life includes risk. Always. And its not necessarily a bad thing. It has been the times when I took real risks throughout my life that I learned, and grew, the most.

My daughter is not as passionate as I was at her age about the outdoors. And she's definitely not as much of a risk-taker. When I signed her up for an eco camp program at a local college last summer, I wasn't sure what she would think of the planned activities. I only signed her up for one week, figuring it would be a good introduction. And, if she hated it, it was only one week.

She swam in a lake for the first time. Went canoeing. Fished. Took nature walks and brought home found treasures. She spent all day in the hot Florida sun and had the time of her life.

Her favorite part was the one thing I was skeptical she'd even try—zip-lining over a lake. She was crazy about it. The only part she didn't like was all the safety gear she had to wear. It probably weighed about as much as she does, and she had to climb a rope ladder wearing it.

The reward though? That was so worth it.

"Mommy," she said breathlessly after that first day, "it felt like I was flying!"

"I have always wanted to fly," I said.

"Me, too!"

Sure, it wasn't the same as climbing to the top of the tree outside my childhood home. She was closely supervised, literally up to her neck in safety equipment. But the experience gave her the same feeling I had as a child.

It was a thrill. It enabled her to step outside her world and her comfort zone. She did it as many times as they would allow during that week.

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This coming summer, she wants to go back to the same camp—and for more weeks. In the meantime, I'll be looking for as many ways as possible to take advantage of the mild winters and get her outside. Give her room to roam. And maybe let her climb a small tree …

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Photograph by: Elizabeth Flora Ross

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