First Strokes

Turning Passengers Into Little Paddlers

Has your child been freeloading in your canoe long enough? Is it time to turn your little passenger into a little paddler?

Just how can you encourage this transformation?

Choose the Right Paddle
A paddle is the first thing you need, of course.

Actually, your child is probably used to one already. Or should be. After all, everyone, including toddlers, needs a paddle—not necessarily for helping propel the canoe, but because they're such wonderful diversions. Don't expect kids to share them unless you're prepared for squabbles. And sibling squabbles with paddles in hand can certainly be dangerous!

The good news is that nobody needs anything fancy. Pre-schoolers can use plastic, toy paddles. Older kids can use genuine junior models. L.L. Bean, for example, sells wooden paddles in 36", 42", and 48" lengths for $22.

How long should your child's paddle be?
Long enough to reach the water.

This may sound like a joke, but it's sound advice. For adults and children who will be paddling from a sitting position, their paddle should reach to between mid-chest and shoulder height when standing. Youngsters sitting in the bottom of a canoe may need slightly longer paddles.

First Strokes
Parents typically seat a child ready to try real paddling—something more than playful dips in the water—in the bow. Young paddlers aren't ready for the stern until their skills are fairly honed.

With children ages eight and under, there's a great deal to be said for simply handing a paddle to a child and letting him explore. If he seems interested, show him moves like the forward, back, draw, and J-strokes. But also let him splash and explore, or even invent strokes and names for them.

For young kids, keep the instruction low-key and fun, so they'll regard paddling as a pleasure and privilege instead of a chore. Don't count on either mastery or endurance until your child has both interest and strength. If they paddle the wrong way, so what?

Getting Better
Unless you happen to be an expert, lessons and guided trips are definitely the safest way for parents and children alike to become advanced paddlers, especially if quick and whitewater are involved.

Experts strongly advocate professional lessons for children. Good professional instruction is widely available now, and is often a good idea for parents, too.

Remember, yelling louder is definitely not a good teaching technique!

You can locate lessons in your area by:

Asking for recommendations, especially from experienced canoeing enthusiasts or at your local outfitter's store.

Investigating watershed associations, which often feature a paddling program.

Checking with state parks.

Investigating summer camp programs, which often include canoeing sessions and lessons.

Article © Alice Cary

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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