As a dad and a guide, I’m always being asked by other parents when is the best time to start taking their children paddling. My answer is always the same, “On the way home from the hospital is the perfect time!” In all seriousness, if you are an experienced paddler, the sooner the better. If you wait too long something else will capture their interests. Heaven forbid your child prefers television, computers, or video games to the great outdoors! In fact, have your wife load the canoe on the roof rack of your car, right now, while you continue to read this article!
The most important thing about a family paddling trip is to make sure everyone has the best time possible; this will insure more fun trips in the future. Your children will most likely have a good time if you start them young and if you have a good time. To get little ones interested in the upcoming paddling trip, leave a canoe or kayak in the backyard for them to play on. Give their little bodies a chance to get used to the feel of the boat and let their giant imaginations run wild!
When you finally get on the water, keep the time in the boat short and the playtime high. Don’t expect your young children to actually propel the vessel. Make numerous stops for the kids to play, to explore, and, of course, to eat. Stop early to set up camp. Involve the children in most of the camp chores; you know they love helping. Collecting fire wood, setting up tents, finding rocks for the fireplace, rolling out the sleeping pads and bags, and helping prepare meals all make the child realize she is an important part of the family and valuable to the expedition.
Make every effort to keep your children from getting overexposed to the sun, and don’t forget about the rays reflected off the water. Take light, long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, heaps of sunscreen, and siestas in the shade. Remember your kids look up to you – if you aren’t wearing a shirt, a PFD (personal flotation device), or sunscreen, they won’t want to either, and won’t see the need for it. Lead by example. Also, avoid trips outdoors during the mosquito season (Summer and Fall in Florida), getting too close to wild animals, and showing fear or dislike of the things found in nature. Parents who display their fears of lightning, alligators, snakes, insects, or whatever can often pass it on to their children. If lightning gets close, calmly get to safety, then “ooh” and “aah” like you’re watching a great fireworks display. Respect wildlife; observe snakes, alligators, and wasp nests from a distance. These safety precautions will pay off big once your child begins going on paddling trips without you; your nerves won’t be as raw if you know your kid isn’t picking up snakes, feeding alligators, or throwing rocks at enormous wasp nests, and you’ll sleep better if she knows what to do when thunderclouds start rolling over the campsite.
Since having fun is important, make sure you pack a few tools to help the process. First, make sure to bring a big tent. When the sun is beating down, or the bugs discover your location, a big tent allows the kids ample play space. Always have crayons, paper, string or rope, play dough, and storybooks for inside the tent, and plenty of flashlights and batteries. Outside, let the young ones build sand castles, forts, and rope swings. I take the kids on bug hunts, point out birds using binoculars, and teach the fine art of using a slingshot. And finally, in all my years of guiding and travels to different countries, I have never met a kid that doesn’t enjoy fishing.
So get out the maps and search the web for some great family paddling spots. If you need any help or advice feel free to contact me personally at any time.
On a final note, there are heaps of parents out there who don’t have the time or knowledge to take their children camping, fishing or paddling. Lets take the time to offer more FAMILY outings. Imagine the impact you could make on a kid’s life by just taking them outdoors to play.
Here are two tours that we, Adventures in Florida, offer that are perfect for families with young children: Manatee Encounter and Bioluminescence Kayak Tours. Furthermore, Florida State Parks are perfect for families.