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'This Sunday activity tore my kids away from their screens - and made us all happier'

My 3 and 7-year-old were both hooked after one session.

christian climbing
7 March 2023
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I’m often at a loss for what to do as a family on a Sunday morning.

Saturday is the day of active pursuits including football, swimming, ballet and the occasional Parkrun which myself, my wife and our children, aged three and seven all try to do together.

However, when it comes to Sundays, we're on the eternal hunt for activities that are suitable for both of our children - and fun for adults too.

As any parent would attest, this is always a challenge at weekends and the holidays, as we try to coax our kids away from the myriad of screens they're fixated by.

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When Substation in Brixton opened a climbing centre exclusively for bouldering, my curiosity was instantly piqued - could this be the activity to excite my children and challenge myself?

adult climbing© Photo: Instagram

Bouldering is suitable for adults and children alike

As adults, we rarely challenge ourselves to try new things, despite the fact that stepping out of our comfort zone is proven to boost our happiness. "When we step out of our comfort zone, we learn more about ourselves, we become more resilient in terms of discovering skills we never knew we had and building confidence and self-esteem, as well as opening ourselves up to new opportunity," Dr. Radha, author of Know Your Power and regular guest on BBC Radio 1's Life Hacks advice show told HELLO!.

Plus, the kind of stress generated by a challenge is good stress; research shows that the ‘good stress’ released when we make ourselves a little uncomfortable, creates a rewarding feeling when things go well, making us more resilient and better prepared for future challenges - win, win!

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So, off we went on a bouldering adventure.

What is bouldering?

The NHS recently released an article which extols the health and mental benefits of climbing and if you've never come across the term bouldering, it can be defined as a form of free-climbing with just yourself and the climbing wall.

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No ropes, no safety harnesses and just your mind and body. If it does sound a little intimidating, I would agree it is at first, but overcoming the trepidation adds to the occasion.

adult climbing© Photo: Instagram

Overcoming the trepidation of bouldering adds to the sense of achievement 

I equally wondered how my children would fare being that my eldest had experience on a climbing wall albeit with a harness and rope. His slight nervousness was vanquished however as soon as we walked into the centre.

What is Substation like?

Substation itself is extremely welcoming and the staff are on-hand with a big smile to make you feel instantly at ease.

The space also offers a gym, fitness classes, a cafe and a workspace. One point of advice is to make sure you fill out the waiver online before you arrive as this can be quite time-consuming, especially if you are filling this out for young children.

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Once our waivers were signed, we were all given rock climbing shoes and made our way into the centre. The lovely Laura accompanied us and was on hand to answer any questions.

What strikes you as you enter the actual climbing facility is the amount of space available and the size of the walls. Don’t worry if you fall - a sizable mat with plenty of padding is below each wall to soften the descent. There is a safe way to fall and after losing my grip a couple of times, I can confirm that the mat works extremely well.

Can children go bouldering?

Yes, Substation offers a choice of clubs and activities for children, from private lessons with a coach to get your little ones acquainted with the walls, to the Sub Club which offers tasters to six-week courses.

There are also youth improvers which are more suited to older kids, as it deals more with the fundamentals of climbing.

Our little budding climbers were blown away by a secret door which led to 'The Wild'.

children bouldering

Substation's 'The Wild' area is great for kids

Awash with neon colours, the space doubles up as a party room but also a location where your children can run wild - ours definitely did. Within a few minutes they had both traversed a couple of walls, leaving mum and dad standing in their dust.

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Designed with help from a Froebel specialist , the walls ensure that a child’s stimulation and creativity can be pushed to their full potential. You can also add ‘glow time’ which includes a UV package to really light up their minds.

children bouldering

The space is designed to appeal to children

The climbing walls at Substation

On the main climbing walls we were in the company of most age groups, genders and parents all climbing with one another and showing each other the ropes (or lack of).

Our littlest was running from wall to wall and attempting to climb just by sheer excitement alone. Everyone was welcoming and we just needed to ensure she was out of the way of any climbers above her.

children bouldering

There are climbing walls suited to adults and children

A little bit of common sense and politeness goes a long way, but everyone is here to be supportive, encouraging and it shows. Our eldest overcame all his nerves rapidly and was traversing to the top of the walls in no time which made us beam with pride.

At Substation they make bouldering easy for both beginners and experts alike, with clear colour marking the handles and helpful instructions so you know what you are doing and which difficulty level is most suited to your ability. I would recommend going for some coaching if it's your first time climbing, as some helpful pointers from Laura improved both mine and my wife's very novice technique.

adult climbing© Photo: Instagram

Experienced coaches are on hand to help you get the best from your session

The post-climb high

After a couple of hours trying out all the different walls, we were well and truly spent.

Muscles we didn't know we had ached (in a good way) and after looking at our kids’ smiles, we decided that this was something we needed and should do regularly.

The great thing about climbing is not just the physical challenge, but a mental one which helps with problem-solving, which aids focus. With that in mind, the time you spend is very quickly eaten up as you concentrate on traversing the next section.

In fact, all exercise helps us to focus and can help our minds become clearer, explains exercise psychologist Dr. Josephine Perry, who works with luxury gym group David Lloyd. "With exercise, if we've been trying to solve a problem we can get caught up in our thoughts. When we exercise, our brain is still working away in the background trying to fix it but we don't actively focus on it, so we can get some really good answers."

climbing 4

Climbing works your mind as well as your body

I personally got a little obsessed with one wall where you had to hang at an angle, but try as I might, I couldn't even get halfway up. The sense of determination followed hopefully by accomplishment will definitely keep me coming back.

The verdict from our kids was so positive that we’ve signed our son up to the Sub Club and he can’t wait to return.

adult climbing© Photo: Instagram

There are clubs for children to join

As a parent, it’s affirming to see your kids start the day with a physical and mental challenge and one that gives them such a buzz.

When we discussed what was the best aspect of the experience, it was that we could all do it together, experience the same activity and feel the same buzz afterwards. As we got into the car to go home, we knew that this particular Sunday had been started the right way and all of our smiles were testimony to that.

Looking for more inspiring ways to add happiness to your day? Watch our video of happiness tips below.

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Substation has locations in London and Macclesfield. Find out more at

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