My 9-year-old son Brent recently climbed on top of an ATM at Northbrook Court.
In the 90 seconds—2 minutes tops—it took me to go to the bathroom, he managed to vault himself onto the key pad, step on the video screen and then swing his tiny leg over to straddle the red-white-and-blue plastic sign advertising a 6% APR on checking.
While both impressive and ridiculous, I’m ultimately unfazed by his orangutan antics and the other gravity defying exploits of my three boys (who aren’t nearly civilized enough to be spending extended time indoors).
So, if you’re like me and the thought of another germy indoor play place makes your stomach churn or your kids can’t head outside because 5 mittens remain in your mudroom and there are 6 hands to keep warm (naïve mom, you thought buying 20 pairs at Kohls would suffice), then let your kids climb the walls.
Beyond combating winter doldrums, indoor climbing provides a number of physical and mental health benefits for kids. From gymnasts to lacrosse players, the skill set developed in climbing transfers to all types of sports.
“Climbing is a total body workout that helps to increase flexibility, core power, strength and balance,” says Beth Norman, program coordinator at Vertical Horizon, Illinois’ largest indoor climbing facility.
Plus, the challenge of finding a route helps with problem solving and improves focus, according to Dr. Jeremy Bloomfield, director of rock climbing and life coaching programs for the Chicago Athletic Clubs and a clinical psychologist.
“There are great benefits for kids to be completely engaged in something that aids both physical and cognitive development,” Bloomfield says. “It’s especially great for kids with attention problems.”
If your looking to harness your families’ energy, use our guide to getting vertical so you can put an end to the metaphorical wall climbing.
The facility: EAC’s facility boasts two Entre Prises climbing walls and a custom built bouldering cave that include dihedrals, sustained overhangs and a 46-foot high endurance route.
Programs: In addition to family climbing times and a full schedule of kids classes (ages 5 and up) open to members and non-members, the EAC youth team (ages 10-17) participates in climbing competitions.
Where to refuel: Healthier than ice cream, Red Mango (809 Davis St., Evanston) yogurt is free of unhealthy additives like high-fructose corn syrup and is certified gluten-free.
The facility: For a $10 daily fee and a $5 shoe rental, kids can get vertical on the chimney, cave and crack climbs via 10 belay stations and five auto belays.
Programs: With eight full-sized basketball and volleyball courts and two indoor soccer fields, a number of athletic organizations compete at the 169,000-square-foot indoor sports center. For siblings sick of spectating, there are open climbing hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 4 to 7 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where to refuel: An excellent post-sport snack, the power bagel topped with peanut butter provides a healthy dose of both whole grain carbohydrates and protein. Check out Einstein Bros Bagels (1443 Peterson Rd., Libertyville) close by.
The facility: The mega club is a member’s only facility (it’s a $30 guest fee to climb).
Programs: Non-members can use the rock wall as part of a birthday party package. Combined with swimming or gym time and pizza, it’s a rockin’ party.
Where to refuel: If loading the family back into the minivan sucks all your remaining energy and leads to another drive thru, fast food meal, forgo the extra trip and stay on site at the Life Café. They have a multitude of healthy and affordable options including $3 special kids meals.
28141 Diehl Rd., Warrenville, 630-836-0122
The facility: A good hour’s drive from most points on the North Shore, a trip to Vertical Endeavors is worth the trek with 18,000 square-feet of climbing surface, including a climbing wall designed especially for younger children with whimsical shaped holds and wildlife sculptures.
Programs: Optimize your driving versus climbing ratio, and buy a full-day pass for $15. For an extra $30 for 2 hours ($20 for members), lessons are offered at a variety of times and teach a number of techniques. Call for a schedule.
Where to refuel: Within walking distance of Vertical Endeavors, you’ll find Potbelly’s, Red Robin and Atlanta Bread Company. But after a full day of climbing, we recommend Jamba Juice’s Protein Berry Workout smoothie, with 20 grams of protein (28341 Diehl Rd., Warrenville).