Teaching Your Child to Kayak

Photo Credit: Johnny Brings/Unsplash

1. How Young is Too Young to Teach My Kids to Kayak?

Every parent who kayaks wants to get their kids into paddling as soon as their little ones are crawling. While this may be jumping the gun just a bit, it is true that we will look for every excuse to start teaching our kids to kayak. The question that circulates among new parents regarding this very question is, how young is too young to teach my kids to kayak

The answer to this question is wrapped up in the individual child’s ability to swim as well as grasp new concepts.

Teaching a child to kayak also has much to do with the paddling ability of the parent doing the instructing. While there is no perfect answer that will suit each individual child or situation there are some basic steps you can follow to help the process. This step-by-step will outline how to go about teaching a child to kayak

2. Teach Your Child Water Safety While Kayaking

No matter what the age of the child you are going to teach to kayak, the most important concern should be their safety. Child water safety must be a priority. Make sure your child is dressed for maximum water safety before getting near the water. This way there are no accidents or mishaps that you’ll regret later. Your child should be wearing a properly fitted PFD, securely fastened, closed-toe sandals or water shoes, and sunblock to name a few items.

Also, be sure that you double-check that all buckles and overall fit. If there is one thing you should get out of this article it should be that dressing for water safety should be your first priority for your child.

3. Teach Kids Kayaking Safety by Modeling It

One of the most important lessons your kids can get regarding kayak safety is to see you following the same lessons you are teaching them. It is important that you model the very same behavior that you expect from your child. This means you also should be wearing your PFD, foot protection, and whatever else you expect your child to wear while kayaking. This goes for whatever age your children are.

Younger kids will especially appreciate the camaraderie this common behavior will illicit. My kid loved the fact that he was wearing a pfd just like daddy. Again, water safety for kids is the most important thing about the whole kayaking experience so be sure to dress for water and kayak safety.

4. Teach Kids Their First Kayak Lesson While Still on Land

It may seem strange to teach kids to kayak while still on land but it is very important. The first kayaking lesson should always take place before you get into the water. For younger kids, this will serve to get them comfortable and prepare them for what they are about to experience. For older kids and teens, this helps to maintain their attention while you still can.

Once in the water, it is too late to teach certain things about kayaking.

Have the child sit in the kayak on land and explain the basics about how it feels to be in a kayak. This is a technique I use with adults also as there is often a healthy apprehension about flipping over. Sitting in the kayak while on land helps alleviate that fear. For older children who will be paddling on their own, I also teach them how to hold the paddle and the basics of the forward stroke before they get into the water.

As my son is only two, there is really no point in going through the kayak forward stroke while on land. I tell him things like not to stand up nor is he to lean over the side of the kayak. This is also the point where you will see what the best way to situate your child in the kayak with you is. For kayaks with small cockpits, you’ll have to see if you can fit in with your child on your lap

5. Allow Your Child to Develop Kayaking Confidence

Once in the water, help your child get comfortable and gain kayaking confidence. Let them explore a little bit so that they become comfortable and confident. Reinforce what you taught them while still on land. These first moments will be very telling to see if your child is calm and under control while in your kayak or if they will be wild and out of control. Keep a hand on them during this time. The back of the PFD is a good way to hold them while you see what they do.

Letting them touch the water is good also. Remember, we want them to love this sport as much as we do. Part of paddling any boat is the feeling of being on the water and in nature. It is our hope that our kids learn to love this experience also.

Teaching a child how to take the forward stroke in a kayak. Photo Credit: Photo © by Susan Sayour
Once your child is comfortable in the kayak, it is time to teach him or her how to paddle the kayak with what is known as the forward stroke. The first step is to teach them how to grip the kayak paddle. This should be done on land with older children. With younger kids, you should place their hands on the paddle and guide their strokes. Teach them how to do a proper forward stroke and guide their kayak paddle if possible.

It can be a great bonding experience to place the child in your lap and paddle with them. You can guide how their strokes along the way, allowing them to experience how the kayak forward stroke should feel and perform. It should be noted that your form is less important than theirs at this point as it is difficult to achieve the proper torso rotation when someone is in your lap.

6. Let Your Child Paddle on Their Own

At some point, you’ll have to let go and give your child the kayak paddle. Of course, the first few forward strokes will probably make you cringe, but remember they have to start somewhere. As your child paddles on his or her own, offer guidance but don’t pressure or frustrate them.

Remember also, that as you let your child paddle on their own they probably won’t exactly understand what you are asking of them.

He or she is, after all, just a kid. Try to adjust how you word your instructions to help your child paddle better. But again, remember to take it easy on them. Before you know it they’ll be teaching you a thing or two in the cockpit. Until then, ease into it.

7. When Taking the Family Kayaking Let them Enjoy the Experience

As with taking any member of the family kayaking, allow your child to enjoy, explore, and have fun during the kayaking experience. Point out interesting things in the water and on land. Attempt to impart some of the reasons you love paddling onto your child. If you make the experience a stress-free and enjoyable one when you take your family kayaking, it will increase the chances that they’ll want to go again.

In time, you’ll go from having a child you are training to have a true paddling companion.