Tree Climbing and Acceptable Risk: Discovery at Home

Materials Needed:

  • Your Nature Journal
  • Colored pencils, markers, paint, old magazines, tape, glue-optional.
  • Weather-appropriate closing and comfortable shoes for walking, climbing or going wild!


  1. Plan a day of unstructured outdoor play! Bring a picnic lunch or a snack if you like.
  2. Now, step back. You will need to monitor for safety of course, but let nature take over.
    1. Mud soup is okay
    2. Collecting twigs or leaves or rocks is okay
    3. Getting dirty is okay
    4. Climbing a tree is very okay!
  3. At the end of the day, relive your adventures. Record your most thrilling moments.
    1. Draw, dictate, cut and paste, celebrate.
    2. How many mountains did you climb?
    3. How tall was the tree you climbed?
    4. How did it make you feel to stand on the wobbly rock?
    5. Did you get any scrapes or bumps, or bruises?
    6. Are you feeling braver today than yesterday?

How do kids benefit?

  • Acceptable risk helps children overcome challenges and instills confidence. It supports future life skills. It prepares oneself for test-taking and talking in front of others through personal growth. What better preparation for the risk-taking and obstacles of the academic world?
  • Nature teaches us connectedness. Kids learn that living things depend on each other. How better to learn than to become hands-on with nature? Plants give animals food and shelter. They make oxygen for us to breathe. Plants depend on animals for nutrients, pollination, and seed dispersal. Each benefits from the other, which is called a symbiotic relationship.
  • Unstructured play allows negotiation and compromise. It spotlights leadership skills and develops social-emotional growth. It celebrates creativity.
  • A rock in the middle of a creek doesn’t move closer to you to make it easier for you to step across. You have to solve the problem yourself. Nature asserts itself and kids naturally take more risks. Failures lead to success. In the future, kids will be more likely to weigh the risks or take a smaller step. Kids learn resilience. They learn that getting wet is worth the risk!

  • Kids practice perseverance and fortitude. Free play is more authentic and less predictable than simply kicking a ball. With a ball, you kick it, you pick it up, repeat. On the other hand, a tree stump or a log is open ended. You can stand on it, try to pick it up, roll it, jump over it, balance on it, fall off and imagine... as a stump becomes a ship or a plane or a throne where you are King or Queen for a day.
  • Everyone benefits! Let your kids invite you into their world. Can you climb a tree? Cross a creek bed without getting wet? Build a dam? Wade to the deepest part of the puddle? Accept a dare. How can I pick up a branch without getting poked by a thorn?
  • Climbing, balancing, and grasping a branch just out of reach enhances fine and gross motor development. Going out on a limb physically places kids at emotional risk as well. Acceptable risk nurtures the spirit of a child which in turn sparks persistence, independence and confidence! Become a role model for your kids and test gravity regularly!