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Thoughts on Paddling with Kids

Posted on July 08 2016

Ask a parent for advice on paddling with kids and you're bound to hear conflicting opinions. Some are gung ho about taking their babies out in the first year when they’re less mobile, while others counsel waiting. Many couples are surprised how their camping routine gets shaken up once an extra set of hands is tied up with childcare. The smaller the child the more they seem to need, and what to pack becomes an even more important consideration. The answers probably come down to personal preference, but we got thinking about these questions when a customer wrote to ask whether a canoe or a skiff would be more appropriate for tripping with kids. Here are our two cents, as well as a few recommendations for further reading.

In weighing the benefits of a skiff versus canoe, we thought the customer would be better served by the canoe. Although rowing skiffs have a large interior volume, they’re not as versatile. Canoes can get into places that rowing craft cannot, and are more easily carried. That alone is an advantage if you’re tripping with kids, but it’s also easier to give a slightly older child a role in the canoe. Giving them their own paddling position in the bow is a good way to keep kids occupied and teach them some outdoor skills in the bargain.

Our daughter Daisy and son-in-law Adam are testing that theory this summer with a two-canoe, two six-year-old trip to the Kipawa river system. They introduced their kids to the idea of paddling by beginning with short trips and gradually increasing the length. They also fostered a sense of responsibility by encouraging the kids to help out on portages. Having done so, they feel ready for something longer and more challenging.

Much of their advice was gleaned from the works of Kevin Callan, a truly dedicated camper and canoeist. His enthusiasm is infectious and emphasizes the fun to be had outdoors. In his books and videos, he provides a candid commentary on the things he learns while tripping. From the moment the ice is off the lake Kevin commits himself to exploring, and it’s hard to name a better advocate for safe, fun canoeing. Parents still unsure about how to approach the kids and canoes question would do well to seek out his work.

Daisy and Adam found the section on travelling with kids in Kevin’s book Gone Canoeing: Wilderness Weekends in Southern Ontario particularly helpful. They also recommend Canoeroots & Family Camping Magazine as an excellent resource. We’ll have to follow up on their firsthand experiences later, but we're wishing them an excellent trip that brings out the best in everyone involved. As Kevin wrote in his "Family Canoe Tripping" post on his Happy Camper blog, that's one precious benefit of bringing the kids along:

"The biggest pleasure we gained by taking our daughter camping was in what she taught us. Kyla slowed our pace down dramatically by spending time looking at things like bugs and plants with the outmost curiosity. It’s not that my wife and I didn’t do that as well, but we didn’t do it as often. Through our more adventurous trips in the past we got caught up in that game of 'travelling far so we can see more.' Tripping with a child brought us back to reality. I’ve never been so immersed in wilderness, so aware of my surroundings than when I’m tripping with Kyla."

The full article is available here.

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