When I was a dedicated climber, I was always impressed to see school-age kids coming to climb at the gym. When you visit Planet Granite, you see some high schoolers, middle schoolers, and the occasional grade schooler, largely because Planet Granite supports a youth climbing program. Their programs support ages 5 and up… until now. The age range just dropped to include ages 2 and up.
Stroller Hikes is a Sunnyvale 501-c-3 educational nonprofit that provides opportunities for exercise and outdoor events for families. As the name implies, Stroller Hikes offers hiking events, but since 2006, events have broadened to include running, Toddler Treks, a backpacking series, camping, and now rock climbing.
Lisa Silberman-Kafka and Debbie Frazier climbed a lot before having kids, and the sport has always held allure, tempered only by the question of how to manage kids AND climb. Lisa first offered indoor rock climbing as a Stroller Hikes event in June of 2011, knowing that if she could make the sport social for her two kids, they would be more motivated to try it out and return week after week. Debbie has since joined Lisa as a “belay slave,” and was delighted to have her son join the climbers, after having been indoctrinated with a love of the sport through countless climbing movies and scrambles on rocks in Sunol and Yosemite. Planet Granite has provided a unique opportunity at their indoor venue with piles of routes that can be done amongst a large group of preschoolers and kindergarteners. Kids love to climb up the “ABCs” or reach for animal heads, teeth, telephone, or volcanoes screwed into the wall. Planet Granite has offered Stroller Hikes families discounts on gear rentals, further removing anxiety from parents about trying the sport out.
Stroller Hikes has seen 2-year-olds dressed from head to toe in climbing gear, content to simply watch from the sidelines, bounce on the puffy blue floor, or find cool shapeLos in the cut-out rubber soles near the slackline. Stroller Hikes has also had kids who choose not to wear any special gear, scrambling up the bouldering wall. Most kids don a full-body harness and try their best on a top-roped climb. It’s not unusual to see first-timers, with no inhibition, take to the wall like Spiderman. Others, intimidated by fear, swing gently 3 feet off the ground, getting accustomed to the rope taking their weight, before climbing a few more inches and beaming with delight at their accomplishment.
TJ (4) loves to climb. When asked why, he says, “Because I get to go REALLY, REALLY high.” Many parents unfamiliar with the sport hoot with delight when their kids take to the wall, recording videos or snapping photos to be posted later on Facebook. Other parents, impressed by the perseverance of their kids, have signed up for belay classes after a single visit to Planet Granite.
Climbing is an excellent way for young children to develop body awareness, build confidence, practice taking turns, learn to balance effort with breaks, and learn to communicate their fears and frustrations. The other benefit of climbing at Planet Granite has been one true of all Stroller Hikes events – the experience in an all-ages environment has helped the kids understand how they fit into a community, as this is not simply a kids-only, playdate-reserved zone. The little Stroller Hikers delight in exploring the different “rooms” at Planet Granite, watching other climbers, and noticing when new routes have been made or when tape has been peeled off a familiar climb. On hikes, these same kids would notice rocks, sticks, plants, and animals, engaging all of their senses as they trod or roll down the trail. At Planet Granite, the hiking is vertical, and they are developing the awareness of climbing that will pay off when we venture outside.
Debbie Frazier is Founder and President of Stroller Hikes, and belays for indoor rock climbing at the Sunnyvale Planet Granite every Friday from 3:30 – 5 PM. Stroller Hikes events are open to the general public and always free (there may be admission fees like at Planet Granite, or parking fees at some parks, but Stroller Hikes charges no fee). Learn more at StrollerHikes.com.