Taking your toddler on a canoeing trip can be a magical experience. It not only gives you the chance to bond with your kid, but it also provides them with an opportunity to interact and build an appreciation for Mother Nature. Aside from that, paddling offers plenty of physical, mental, and emotional health benefits not only for adults but for children as well. However, many parents often have second thoughts about the idea of canoeing with toddlers, especially when they consider the child’s age and readiness for this particular sport.
Although it is may seem that taking a child less than three years of age on a canoe trip is scary and stressful, many parents who have tried canoeing or kayaking with kids actually find the experience fun and rewarding. In fact, they loved it so much that many of them have continued to do so until their kids were old enough to own and paddle kayaks for children. That said, if you’ve decided your child on a canoe trip, here are some things you’ll need to keep in mind to ensure that you and your kid will have a safe and enjoyable time out in the water.
Teach Toddlers to Swim
Canoeing, whether you do it alone or with kids, is generally a safe experience since the chances of your canoe capsizing and tipping over is relatively small (provided of course that you’ve taken all the necessary safety precautions and paddle carefully). Nonetheless, it is still recommended that your toddler is capable of swimming or has at least learned some basic swimming skills before you take them paddling.
Many experts agree that children should be taught how to swim at an early age as this helps them become more comfortable being around water and make swimming almost second nature for them as they grow older. That said, you can enroll your kid in swimming lessons designed for toddlers or those aged between one and three years old. With proper training, supervision, and the right swimming gear and equipment like kids’ swimming goggles and others, most toddlers can learn how to swim a fair distance with their face in the water. You should consider joining a parent-child swimming class as this makes learning more enjoyable.
Choose a Safe and Interesting Paddling Route
When choosing a paddling route or destination, you’ll want to choose one that is generally safe for toddlers. More often than not, this means sticking to calm bodies of water that have minimal currents like small ponds or lakes and slow-moving rivers and streams. Think about those routes and destinations that are suitable for those who are just learning how to paddle a canoe and you’ll get the picture. The less current and water disturbance there is, the less movement or rocking your boat will experience, which in turn lessens the stress and fear your child will feel while on the water.
Aside from safety, you’ll also want to choose a paddling route or destination that offers plenty of interesting sights for your kid like rock formations or man-made structures. Also, look for one that is known for an abundance of wildlife or is frequented by different bird species. If you are having trouble looking for a kid-friendly paddling route or destination, talk to the paddling experts in your locality. You can also visit state parks and talk to the park managers there for more information.
Dress Your Kid Appropriately
Your kid’s outfit for the trip will largely be influenced by the weather. If it’s hot and sunny outside, then you’ll want to make them wear loose and breathable clothing. A wide-brimmed hat and a pair of sunglasses are also necessary to protect them from the sun. On the other hand, if the weather is chilly, then you’ll want to make them wear some warm clothes; however, choose garments that will still allow them to move freely. Also, don’t forget to make them wear a good pair of water shoes for kids to protect their feet from sharp rocks or glass shards while they go exploring the banks or shallows.
Choose a Big Enough Canoe
Canoes come in a variety of lengths and sizes, and since you’ll be paddling with your kid, you’ll want to choose one that is large and spacious enough for both of you. When it comes to kayaking with kids, most parents will be using a tandem kayak as this has more space than other types of kayaks. In the case of canoes though, space shouldn’t be a problem because of their open deck design and wide seats.
When canoeing with kids, you can either let them sit in the middle of the boat or up in front while you seat at the rear end. This is the recommended seating arrangement because it allows you to paddle and steer the canoe much more efficiently and allows you to keep an eye on your kid at the same time.
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Plan the Length of the Trip Accordingly
Toddlers have a very short attention span and they’re very likely to lose interest in less than an hour after you launched the canoe. That said, you’ll want to make sure that you plan the length of your canoeing trip accordingly. More often than not, thirty minutes of paddling should be long enough for any given trip. If you want to make a longer paddling session, then you’ll want to make sure that you bring something aboard that will entertain them once they tire of being in the water.
Bring the Essentials
If you’ve gone paddling before, whether on a canoe or kayak, then you’re probably already aware of what to pack and bring during such trips. The same applies when you go canoeing with toddlers. Of course, you’ll have to tweak your kayak or canoe gear and accessories checklist to accommodate those items that your toddler will need while canoeing.
- You’ll want to make sure that you bring lots of snacks on your trip. Not only will this make sure that they have all the energy they need while out in the water, but it’s also a good way of keeping your toddler satisfied and happy (it can be difficult dealing with a grumpy kid while you’re paddling).
- It is important to bring lots of water when you go kayaking or canoeing. The paddling and the heat of the sun will make you and your kid very thirsty, so always have a bottle of water (or two) nearby.
- Extra Clothes. As mentioned earlier, your kid will most likely get wet during the trip, so it’s always a good idea to bring some dry and warm clothes that they can change into when you get out of the water. Also, put them in a water-resistant backpack to keep them from getting wet.
- You may think that beautiful and interesting sights will be enough to keep your child entertained throughout the trip. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. That said, bring along their favorite toys so they have other things to keep them happy if they start getting bored.
Personal Flotation Device
As a responsible parent, always make sure that your kid is wearing a child-appropriate life jacket or PFD. Never head out into the water without one. In fact, the law requires children on board any boat or water vessel to wear a properly fitting PFD. You should also tether an emergency whistle on their PFDs and teach them how to use it. Don’t forget to tell them that this whistle is not a toy and that they should only blow on it when they need help.
To further ensure that your toddler stays safe throughout the whole trip, here are some other things to keep in mind.
- Keep an eye out for the weather. Always check the weather report before you head out into the water. Also, if you see the weather turn while you’re out there paddling, it would be a good idea to head back to shore.
- Never, ever strap your kid into the kayak or canoe. Some parents think that doing so will help prevent kids from going overboard. However, tying your kid into the boat is actually dangerous because it can lead to drowning if the boat tips over.
- Talk to your kid and go over the “do’s and don’ts” while on the boat. This includes not standing up while on the boat, not throwing garbage in the water, or leaning over the canoe’ or kayak’s sides. If you’ve attended a kayaking safety course before your trip, review the safety lessons taught in the classes.
- Go slowly and avoid paddling too fast. This is not only safe, but it also allows you and your kid to enjoy the scenery better.
- Stay close to the shore. Not only will this be safer, but it will also be easier for you to paddle to shore when your child suddenly needs a bathroom break. Along that line, be sure to take note of where the toilets are along your paddling route.
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Canoeing with toddlers definitely has its ups and downs, but it is generally a fun experience for everyone involved. It’s also a great way to introduce them to the sport and help instill in them a love for Mother Nature. However, you’ll want to keep the above tips in mind when you go canoeing with your kid to ensure their safety and that they have a great time out in the water.
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