Climbing instructor Heidi Wild helps four-year-old Alexandra Givotkoff with her gear while Caiden Pound

Little monkeys on Mr. Big

Watch out for more tree frogs and little monkeys clambering through the Collicutt Centre again next month. The popular rock climbing programs for tots is continuing to grow, say centre staff.

Watch out for more tree frogs and little monkeys clambering through the Collicutt Centre again next month.

The popular rock climbing programs for tots is continuing to grow, say centre staff.

Tree Frogs is a climbing introductory class for four-to-five-year-olds. They can jump on the bouldering wall, in addition to doing arts and crafts activities and other “free play” time. Little Monkeys is geared to show five-to-eight-year-olds the ropes — literally.

There is also a parent and child climb time program for children ages six to nine and their guardians to try their hands at wall scaling together.

There wasn’t always a climbing program for preschoolers, said Jodi Smith, Red Deer’s program co-ordinator at the Collicutt. But they saw the demand there and the potential for youngsters to have fun while developing an interest in the activity.

“Part of the fundamental movement skills from the Canadian Sport for Life is climbing so we want to give the kids an opportunity to try that type of movement and just have a good time,” Smith said.

“Then when they go into Climbing Kids, our progression program for nine-to-13-year-olds, they are already ahead of the game and more than ready to start learning more skills involved in the sport of climbing.”

Alexandra Givotkoff, four, takes the name of her program to heart as she heaves her little legs up the 11-metre natural wall known as MR. BIG at the entrance of the centre. The next moment she’s just like a tree frog, perched near a ledge in a squat before reaching up again.

The children usually only practise on the 7.5-metre panel wall in the fieldhouse, covered with artificial climbing holds and the bouldering room. It is smaller and climbing there doesn’t require harness equipment. But on the final day of the session, they get to take a stab at MR. BIG.

“I love it!” Givotkoff says as she’s lowered down by instructor Heidi Wild. “It’s not scary at all. It’s fun.”

Mom Denise Minue said she thought Tree Frogs would be the ideal program for her daughter, not only because it was physical exercise but it was also a great way to socialize with other children who enjoy the same things.

“There are great programs here and this also has a crafty aspect to it, which I like,” she said.

Givotkoff has taken part in the fall and winter climbing sessions so far and plans to sign up for the next one in April as well.

If it’s one thing Smith and her colleague Nolana Nichols, dryland program leader, have noticed over the plus-five years the programs have been running, it’s been how fast they fill up now, Smith said.

“Little Monkeys is always full. There’s six spots per session, which run for four weeks,” Nichols said.

Likewise, the five-day summer camp for Little Monkeys is always filled to capacity soon after registration opens up.

Nichols added the month-long Climbing Challenge at the Collicutt Centre this month where participants can log all their climbs to reach the equivalent of Mount Everest or the Statue of Liberty has helped showcase the sport. The fact that the bouldering room is open to any climber on a drop-in basis — no belay card required (belay meaning you’re competent in the safety technique used to control the rope on a climber) — also makes it easier to take up climbing, she said.

“It’s great for overall health. It really helps build hand strength and building muscles,” Nichols said.

“It’s a lot of core, too — it’s an all-around workout,” Smith said. “It’s an encouraging sport. It’s not competitive. Every climber wants you to do well, too.”

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