How to Raise Kids Who Love to Paddle

When my husband and I started our family, one of the things we wanted our kids to grow up with was our love of the outdoors, including paddling…

young boy with paddle
(Photo courtesy of We Found Adventure)

We both had spent many hours, days and weeks on the water, and wanted our kids to experience and grow to love that, too.

Looking back—now that our three kids are young adults—here are some of the things we did that helped us raise our kids to love to paddle:

Start ‘em Young

My family and I live in Minnesota—land of 11,842 lakes and 6,564 rivers and streams. So our kids have loved swimming since they were very little. Because they’ve felt completely at home in the water, they’ve felt comfortable in boats from a young age, too.

Make it Fun

Kids want to do the same fun things again and again—not unlike adults. And since paddling is about enjoyment, we wanted to make it fun for them, on their level.

We didn’t go too crazy with lengthy trips when they were young, keeping them cooped up in the boat. Instead, we combined paddling with other fun things—swimming, fishing, running around the shore, climbing on rocks.

boys in a canoe
Our boys when they were about 5 and 7

Bring Food

If you’re a parent you already know food is important. It’s equally important when you’re on paddling trips. Make snacks and fun meals part of the experience and you’re sure to win points. On the other hand, forget the food and you’re sure to have disgruntled kids!

Bring Their Friends

As our kids got older we started camping and paddling with other families. They loved sharing their adventures with the other kids. It became some of their favorite memories.

As they grew into teenagers, we kept inviting their friends along—many of whom had never paddled. (It wasn’t long before their friends were inviting themselves along!) Our teens never got tired of bringing their friends on our favorite day trip in the Boundary Waters year after year.

Let Them Go it Alone

We had the benefit of spending much of our family camping time by a small lake that made it easy for our kids to take the canoe out without us grown-ups. Not only did they think that was very cool, it forced them to become better paddlers.

kids and a canoe
One of our kids’ favorite games in years gone by—swamp the canoe!

By the time we added a kayak to our fleet, our boys had their own tackle boxes and fishing poles. They loved the independence of fishing alone from the kayak at 10 and 12 years old.

Another milestone was when I sent the three off on an all-day Boundary Waters trip with a 20-year old friend—without Mom or Dad. At 12, 14 and 16, that was a big deal for both them and me! They still talk about that trip, especially since it took four hours longer than expected when they couldn’t find one of the portages (but that’s a story for another time…).

It Becomes a Lifestyle

Being a home schooling family, I used to joke that one of our kids’ high school graduation requirements was to be able to steer a canoe properly. While I never added it to their transcripts (not too many colleges require it), I’m proud to say they can all steer a canoe!

Paddling remains a favorite family activity. And I know each of our kids will keep paddling with their own spouses and kids someday. As a parent it’s wonderfully satisfying to have been part of developing this love in them.

A more recent picture of our paddling family on a day trip in the Boundary Waters

Do you have young children ready to paddle? Bending Branches makes a pint-size paddle just for them. Check it out!

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