There's been wonderful fig trees to climb at the Botanic Gardens and at Collingwood Childrens Farm.
We watched Stripey go up an oak tree and then walk across a beautiful horizontal branch to end up on top of the chicken shed, so Liam tried it and has found a wonderful place to hang out and be alone. There were trees to explore in the bush near our tent at the Eco Festival in Yarra Junction.
Yesterday while I was pushing each of the kids in turn on our big swing, the others climbed the tree that the swing is hung from. Stripey went up as well, then Buckley came to the bottom and barked incessantly at him (he was so intent on barking at the cat that he wasn't interested in chasing his ball - those of you who know Buckley know how hard it is to distract him from ball chasing, so this cat-up-a-tree business was obviously extremely engaging). Anyway, Caitlin was worried that Stripey wouldn't be able to get down, so decided to go up after him. She tried to follow him the way he went, but the branches were a bit steep. So she came down and went up one of the smaller trees underneath the big one, and was nearly able to pull herself up onto a big branch. Liam tried it as well but found the distances between small tree and big branch a bit much. Caitlin ended up with a lot of scratches but seemed to have a lot of fun.
In the Botanic Gardens last week Caitlin pushed herself quite hard and climbed out on some very long branches with challenging forks in them. She said she was stuck a few times, and it can seem that she's scared - but I think really she's just not sure which way to go next/where to put her hands and feet in order to keep moving. She stops and asks for help, and can seem to resist suggestions for a little while, but she processes it all, listens and thinks and looks, and then she's able to move on. When she really gets scared she stops and comes back down.
Its been interesting to watch my reactions to each of the three of them climbing, and also the different ways that they react to tricky bits or when they reach their limit. They are all quite adept at recognising their limits, and while Caitlin's limits are WAY beyond where I would be comfortable myself, I know that she will stop and calm down before trying to come back down, and also that she can be talked through it if she does get stuck or too scared. Liam's limits are more within my own comfort range, and he likes to have help to navigate back if he's become scared. Often just putting my hand on his body somewhere, or even standing right underneath him, is enough to calm him down and he'll be able to get back. Millie's limits are, I think, way beyond Caitlin's. She's normally stopped by physical limitations way before she gets scared. I'm a bit more nervous watching her, simply because I don't know if I'd be able to talk her down, she often wants physical help when she gets stuck/scared - and often that happens at a point where I'd be too scared to go myself.
A couple of weeks ago the kids were climbing up an irresistable wall that looked a lot like a ladder. We were with some friends and all the children were climbing as high as they felt comfortable. Millie went right to the top, then headed out across the roof part, which was constructed in the same way. As soon as she started to go across, my anxiety levels sky-rocketed - not because I was worried that she would fall (I was confident she wouldn't) but because if she got scared or stuck, I didn't know if I would be be able to talk her down, and I knew for sure I wouldn't be able to go up there and get her down... Luckily one of my friends who was there is quite a good climber and quite comfortable with heights, so I asked her to look after Millie and I wandered away a little bit and watched from a distance. L was able to talk her through climbing most of the way across the roof and then turning around and coming back, and she had a wonderful time. L said that Millie was fine as long as they maintained eye-contact, so maybe that's something I can use next time.
In the past I used to not want to help them get up tricky bits in the tree - I would say something like 'If you can't get up yourself then you won't be able to get down' - which is something I heard myself as a child and have heard other adults say. Now I think about it very differently - often the first bit of the tree is quite high, with wonderful, more easily accessible branches once you get past that first bit. Its not fair to stop the smaller children climbing in that part, just because they can't get up the first step. And if I'm there to help them up, then I can be there to help them down as well. So I've given lots of legs up and lifted people down from branches and trunks and I'm looking forward to exploring many many more trees in our adventures together.