Canoeing with a toddler
It’s one of those things we do quite easily as parents isn’t it? Worry, stress, double think everything we do with the kids. Yup, I’ll be the first to admit it. I do it. I think I also drive my husband a bit mad. I never thought I’d be the type to even try to ‘micromanage’ adventure when we’re trying new experiences with our son. Relax, they keep telling me, and of course my sons enthusiasm for trying anything new is really easy to get caught up in! Once I’ve double checked everything a few more times that is! But of course, thinking about it why can’t new adventures for toddlers be big adventures? To other babies and toddlers in other parts of the world, what we consider adventure is their way of life, nothing fancy or adrenaline pumping, just the simple life. So if they can do it, why not us?
We took our son canoeing for the first time when he was 8 months old. He had already been learning to swim for a few terms before then so was used to the water which added to our peace of mind. We talked a lot about the canoe with him and about the adventures we’d have in it, but also got the canoe out in the garden, with him sitting in it and all three of us wearing our personal flotation device (PFD’s) so that he was used to it, and wasn’t going to be hugely overwhelmed on the day. I think he liked the idea of being in a canoe that looked like a big bright yellow banana!
Having canoed for years before we had our son, we had a good knowledge of how to control risks that might be encountered in a range of surroundings. We usually went canoe surfing, but have done multi day river trips and lochs too so hoped this would prepare us. Two years later, our son loves our canoe (or his pirate ship as he likes to call it). We’ve changed from our brightly coloured Ocean Frenzy kayaks which got too small very quickly, to a stable Canadian Canoe which has plenty of room for all three of us to move about in. So far, so good. We’ve not gone in, and only gotten wet when my wellies sprung a leak…
Each trip out has been an amazing bonding experience in the outdoors, where our sons natural curiosity opened our eyes even more. I wouldn’t say that we’ve learned to take being out in nature for granted, but it is a lot of fun having a second childhood and seeing old things like new, through a little ‘uns eyes.
This is what we’ve found has worked so far over the last few years canoeing with a toddler:
- Pay out for a decent personal flotation device (PFD) for your child. We bought one that has a neck support, which if the canoe did tip over would automatically float our son the right way up with his head out of the water. Remember to do all the straps up before you get on the water, including the one through their legs to ensure correct fit and they don’t slip out of it.
- Check the weather forecast. Little or no wind is the best option to ensure smoother canoeing, as you won’t get pushed about so much and have to deal with waves at the same time. This may change over time, depending on if your little one gets used to wind and waves.
- It can’t be said enough; Control risk, take necessary precautions, know your own limitations.
- The first time we went out on the water we made a plan beforehand in case the canoe tipped over agreeing who would stay with our son, and who will get the canoe/paddles. We each knew our job in case the unexpected happened, and the plan has been the same ever since. Thankfully we’ve had no need to use it.
- Acknowledge your own paddling ability and make sure that each paddler can paddle the ‘basics’ and manoeuvre the canoe accordingly, just in case the other one has their hands full with an unhappy toddler…
- We usually take along a little plastic step that doubles up as a bucket so when he wants to sit down it isn’t in a puddle of water. Now he’s a bit bigger though, we’ll be looking for his own seat before too long.
- Accept that you’re possibly not going to be able to go as far, or stay on the water for that long. Our first trip out lasted about 30 minutes in knee depth water. We’ve taken it slowly but now we’re able to stay out for a good few hours, with lots of stops along the way, allowing us to get out to explore and stretch our legs!
- We’ve found having a box of floatable toys in the boat helps too! If not, there are always sticks and stones to play that good old sink or swim game. We also take along a few of those pens that can be used on the side of the bath (easy to rub off) and our son sits there drawing whales, trees or pirate treasure maps on the inside of the canoe.
- We bought him his own paddle, and tied a bit of string attaching it to the canoe. One of his favourite games is throwing it over the side and pulling it back in, or just watching it glide across the water.
- Don’t forget sunhat, sunglasses, suncream etc. Make sure they’re also wearing layers, as it can always be a bit chillier on the water. Waterproofs and wellies also keeps the chill at bay.
- Take a dry bag with clean clothes, nappies, socks, hats etc just in case they’re needed.
- Don’t forget a bit of food and drink for quick energy fixes. Or better yet, a picnic
Remember kids feed off our own emotions and draw their cues from that so show them that water is something not to be afraid of, and that you can have all sorts of fun out there.The list is what we’ve found helpful over the years, but we’d love to hear what’s worked for you and your kids! Share your tips and advice and let us know about any trips you’ve had and also your favourite canoe hangouts!
***Please note: This is a blog that was previously published on another of our blogs Adventurous Little Legs, and linked to an online store we also had. We have closed these both down. All content and pictures remain those of Stacey and Keith at Adventurous Little Legs and An Outdoors Family