Some kids are natural climbers – forever scaling the nearest climbing frame, tree, cargo net or ladder. Those little monkeys will be clambering over cot bars and eyeing up the stairs from a young age. My kid is not one of those monkey kids. My kid is more like, well…. a sloth. And so it was with some trepidation that we headed along to Perth College UHI’s parent and toddler climbing classes, with fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be a wasted journey.
The climbing wall is part of the new Academy of Sports and Wellbeing building which opened in 2017. It’s an impressive set up and the huge hall, filled with colourful walls of differing gradients, is instantly appealing to little people. The toddler classes mainly take part towards the back of the hall where smaller low level ‘bouldering’ walls are used for practice, and huge squashy floor mats are there to cushion any falls.
We’ve been along twice so far; once with my friend Lucy and her two year old Alex who, like Freya, is also a fan of terra firma, and then with Freya’s pal Elsie who let her mummy Jemma tag along. After a few minutes of form filling in at reception the kids we're fitted with cute little climbing shoes and are ready to go!
I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about paying for classes if the staff aren’t particularly ‘hands on’, but there’s no worries about that here. There’s several instructors around, and in particular Emily and Rebecca are fantastic with the kids – demonstrating, encouraging, cheering them on and dishing out celebratory high fives. The whole back area of the hall is reserved for the class with toys, rope swings, hanging gym rings and books to keep kids entertained if they fancy a break from climbing.
The drop in sessions are two hours long and you can come whenever you like within that time, stay for the whole thing, do as much or as little climbing as you like and have a play. You’re very welcome to bring a younger baby along with you, the toilets and changing facilities are right outside the hall and the friendly instructors will happily keep an eye on your toddler if you’ve got your hands full.
...it quickly became clear that the best thing to do is give them some space to figure it out on their own.The aim of the game is to tuck a little toy into one of the footholds up high on the wall and encourage your toddler to climb up and rescue it. The staff have a few toys but regulars bring their own favourites from home (they do need to be quite small to fit in the holes though so don't bother with Giant Ted!). I was straight in telling Freya where to move her foot or hand to next, but it quickly became clear that the best thing to do is give them some space to figure it out on their own.
Climbing is of course good exercise and loads of fun, but what I hadn’t anticipated was the amount of problem solving involved. I took a step back and watched Freya; planning her next move, anticipating where she’d be able to get a good grip, balancing and shifting the weight between both hands and feet as she went. Her little face deadly serious with concentration as she made her ascent – after just a few attempts she was managing to climb 6ft on her own. Goodbye sloth…. hello mountain goat!
Once the kids have had enough of climbing, or if they just love a swing like Freya’s pal Elsie, then they can head over to the big wall where they’ll get fitted with a toddler sized harness and winched up into the air. Both Elsie and Alex preferred to swing like a tiny pendulum from a great height and seemed content to stay there all day, whilst Freya was nothing short of Tarzan herself until the escapades were cut short with a squeal of “Mummy…I need a pee pee!”.
Parents are very welcome to have a go on the wall themselves, and I was keen to try it out when the offer of a pair of climbing shoes was made. At this point I should point out that climbing shoes are not exactly comfortable. One of the instructors Emily cheerily informed me that for the correct fit you’re looking to achieve a mild to moderate level of discomfort. Freshly shod, harnessed and already worried that I may be a cripple the next day I strode towards the big wall safe in the knowledge that if nothing else, at least I looked the part.
I actually like heights, and spent a good proportion of my childhood doing what is now known as ‘canyoning’- traversing gorges and waterfalls with my dad who was a proper climber - but that was some 20 years ago and it would be fair to say I barely know a bowline from an alpine loop these days (a bit of humour for all you knot fans out there!). I made it to the top on one of the easier routes and from that, I decided to sign up to an adult taster session with some friends a couple of weeks later. Who knows – I may even go the whole hog and do some of their adult learn-to-climb evening sessions.
It’s been nothing short of incredible to watch how quickly little kids can take to the climbing wall. It uses hand eye co-ordination, problem solving, strength and grip so it’s no wonder she’s always starving afterwards. We head to the student café (and Costa!) next door where you can tuck in to what must be the cheapest lunch in Perth.
It’s a world class facility right on our doorstep and the whole team make the experience as stress free as possible. Classes are currently held on Tuesday, and Friday mornings from 10am-12pm and Thursdays 1pm to 3pm.
Perth College UHI are running a super fun activity camp for children aged between 7-13 during the 2018 summer holidays. The camp with consist of a range of fun activities including scaling the climbing wall!>
Toddler climbing classes are currently 'pay and play' so there's no need to book but for more info give The Academy of Sport & Wellbeing a ring on 01738 877313
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