Canoeing with Children
Introducing children to wilderness canoeing
©Outdoor Adventure Canada
often I hear about people giving up canoeing when they have children.
When we were expecting the arrival of our son I thought we were going
to join the ranks of parents waiting for the children to get older before
taking them on a canoe trip. Canoeing does not end for parents of young
children and there is no need to send them to the grandparents in order
to go tripping. It does change though; here are some tips and tricks
to make canoeing a family event.
First of all you'll need to make sure the child has a
properly fitted life jacket. There are even models available for children
that are under a year old. You should let your child wear the life jacket
in a controlled environment such as a pool so that they can learn to
lie back with the jacket on. This way they will get used to the feeling
and are less likely to panic if you ever do capsize.
Take a few day trips to ensure that they are accustomed
to the feeling of being in a canoe. Very young children often like the
motion and they find it relaxing. Our son would often fall asleep in
the canoe. Small children, under the age of six, should be carried in
and out of the canoe so that they don't cause the boat to tip. Then
you might want to do a canoeing trip or two where you are fairly close
to civilization until you know that they are comfortable.
they have never been camping before it would be a good idea to set the
tent you will use up in the backyard or go camping close to home so
that the child can get used to sleeping in a tent and in the outdoors.
For school age children it is fun for them to have their
own paddle. You can pick one up at most outdoors stores for under twenty
dollars. Even if they only paddle for a ten minutes at a time the little
ones really feel proud of paddling. When our little boy isn't paddling
he sits in front of the stern paddler, usually his Dad, on a canoe seat.
He plays with small toys and sometimes even falls asleep. He has his
own map, compass and binoculars to play with too.
In the beginning you'll want to make sure there aren't
any really long portages on your trips. If your child is an infant you'll
have to plan portaging careful. Most parents I know use a backpack designed
for carrying a child. One person is responsible for the baby and the
other(s) take care of the gear. With children aged four and up it is
a little different. We've taken nieces, nephews and our own boy canoeing
and it amazes me how much the kids embrace portaging. We take frequently
stops to looks at plants, bugs, mushrooms, rocks and such and I think
it is this exploration approach that seems to make the portages fun.
Campsite safety is often a concern. Many times you can
eliminate many of the potential hazards by merely choosing the right
campsite. Sometimes things happen and you end up with a site that is
less than ideal. This happened to us on occasion. One particular island
site had a very cliffy side. We brought the canoe up and laid it parallel
to the shore on the cliff side and instructed our little one that he
was not to go beyond the canoe. You can also use marker tape to section
off an area. This works well with school-age children but not so well
with toddlers who are more adventurous.
In the book Cradle to Canoe the authors, Rolf and Debra
Kraiker, recommend a tether system made by tying a rope between two
trees that are in a safe spot on the campsite and using a second section
of rope with a carabiner attached to each end. One of the carabiners
is attached to the main rope and the other to the child's life jacket.
Then you put the life jacket on the child and this keeps the little
one out of trouble. Remember that you still have to keep a close eye
on the child but this does make it easier to start camp chores.
Biting bugs can also be an issue. I don't recommend using
adult strength DEET on a child. In fact I prefer to use children's strength
DEET as little as possible. Bug hats and jackets are much better, as
well as long-sleeved shirts and pants. If the bugs are bad tuck their
pants into their socks.
Rainwear is important. It seems to rain on every single
one of our trips. Have a raincoat or anorak for the child along with
rain pants. A pair of rubber boots is a good idea too. You'd be amazed
what neat things you can find by exploring camp on a rainy day. Keeping
warm and dry is paramount though.
First aid is important. I make sure I have all the standard
first aid items in my pack but I also bring some Batman band-aids and
such. For some reason the hurt seems lessened when they have a fancy
band-aid on it. I also pack electrolyte replacement crystals and a children's
can sometimes be difficult. Our little guy was afraid of the dark. One
of our friends brought along the neon bracelets and other neon items
that you can find at the dollar store. These were amazing. Not only
was he more visible but at bedtime we hung the neon item from the gear
loft in our tent and it acted like a night light. I was usually the
one responsible for bedtime so I would go into the tent and tell him
a story or if my imagination wasn't all that great I would let him look
at the images on the screen of the digital camera, We'd talk about the
photos and the trip and then he would go to sleep.
Don't be afraid to take your children on interior canoe
trips just tailor the trip to the child's ability and keep in mind that
you will be creating wonderful memories as a family. As the child becomes
more skilled you can make the trips more challenging.
I highly recommend purchasing the book I mentioned earlier,
Cradle to Canoe by Rolf and Debra Kraiker as it is an excellent
resource for any parent wanting to canoe with their children.
If you have any questions please pop into our Discussion
Forum where there are many like people who can offer suggestions
Written by Laurie