We have a ton of experience paddling with kids: in our classes and summer progams, custom groups for birthday parties, schools and scout trips, and with our own families. Here is my quick advice for taking your kids out on the water. Most importantly is to have fun!
Start slow and see what your kid is capable of, look for a calm location with minimal wind and current. Ideally choose a spot that you already know well, that way you can plan ahead for bathroom/lunch breaks and you’ll be less likely to encounter unexpected surprises that could derail your day. Make your kid excited about paddling in advance of your outing. Talk about the trip, how much fun it will be and let them know you plan to end your day with ice cream. Depending on a lot of variables, If your child will be paddling their own boat plan a trip that is 1/2 to 1/3 shorter than what you would do for yourself.
From our rental locations, my favorites for kids are: Blessing of the Bay Boathouse in Somerville (minimal boat traffic and public transportation accessible), Nahanton Park in Newton (the most likely to spot wildlife), and Moody St. in Waltham (also has minimal boat traffic, and you can end your paddle with ice cream less than a 5 minute walk away).
Kayak, Canoe or Paddleboard? Single or Double? You have to decide if your kid will paddle their own boat or share with you. If a child is going to paddle their own boat, it should fit them, they will paddle with less effort and have more fun– it’s also really empowering for them to manage their own boat. Little kids (under the age of four-ish) can often fit on the front of your paddleboard or in your lap in a single kayak. Alternatively, you’ll all have a little more space in a tandem kayak or canoe. Maybe they should share a kayak or a canoe with an adult to start, and you can judge after that how much paddling they will actually do on their own. Be prepared to tow your kid.
You will need a youth sized life jacket and paddle, Your kid will be more comfortable, safer, and less tired with the right gear. Besides all the regular safety gear you have, you should also make extra sure your kid stays comfortable throughout the day. Bring plenty of water, a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and extra good snacks and lunch to make the day special and fun. Especially if they are sitting on the floor of your boat, bring a cushion and make sure they have a comfortable and stable place for them to sit.
Before you get on the water, go over the rules with your child. Remind kids to wear their life jackets and not to stand up or lean in the boat. Kid’s life jackets are sized by weight, make sure it fits properly! Are there any holes in your knowledge? Maybe you should take a class or practice your rescues before you are responsible for others.
While on the Water:
Go slow and let your child lead. Take plenty of breaks, enjoy the scenery, and make time for play. Think of word games or songs you can play while paddling (eg: I Spy, etc.) so it never feels monotonous. Give your child a job, like navigation, reading tide charts, or knot tying. Binoculars, fishing pole or net, or any other (waterproof and floating) toy can be great to bring.
Roll with the Punches
things don’t always go to plan, be calm and have a good attitude and your kids will too! Find the fun in whatever happens. If it was so windy that you only paddled 100 yards and spent the whole day on the beach making sand castles? that is still a success! Your kid will remember the epic adventure and the fun on the beach.
Also, don’t forget to stop for ice cream!