by Juliet and the ERA Team
Probably the question every paddling parent has about starting their kids in paddling is how old? This question sometimes comes as early as pregnancy! Sit back and relax, your young one will be paddling with you before you can believe it!
What is the take on the Magic Age?
Once upon a time, ten was the magic age for a formal introduction into kayaking: the equipment began fitting (sometimes–I can remember a few sprayskirts hitting the ground on some of my protegeys!); and more importantly, most kids had had some sort of formal training in a sport by the time they were ten.
Then one year I had a father call and ask if we would make an exception�his nine year old was pleading to learn how to kayak. Reluctantly I okayed it. And 9-year old Ecton turned out to be a great student and quite the paddling enthusiast by the time we finished up together. His younger brother held his breath for two years until he too turned nine.
Well, as the times have changed, kids seem to be starting out in organized sports swimming, gymnastics, soccer, at younger and younger ages. So they are brought into coaching situations much earlier than in years past.� And even more influencial is that kayak equipment has been redesigned and fits much smaller kids now (thank Dane Jackson for that!).
So is there a golden age for beginning to kayak? Not really it is very much based on the individual participant. But here are a few pieces of advice:
1. This cannot be what you want your child to do but something they embrace and are enthusiastic about.
2. Let them ask you to get into a kayak. Now saying that, can you encourage them? Sure! Take them out to the lake and let them play with a boat. Tip it over, climb out of it, stand up in it have fun with it! Kayaking is supposed to be fun and as long as they think it is, it will be.
Share river time together. Head downstream in a canoe. Or a kayak: we had a friend who cut a hole in an old skirt and placed his son in his lap and paddled easy whitewater.
DON’T take on the task of teaching them formally. You don’t teach your kid calculus, gymnastics or spanish, why would you take on the role of teaching them kayaking?
Find some fellow families to paddle with so that there are more kids of like/similar ages. And when out on the river, make sure you have extra layering–the younger a paddler the less insulation. Even on a sunny day over dress your small kayakers.
And finally just like when you tried to teach your spouse something watch your tone of voice. Your child is already in a position of trying to please you by becoming a good kayaker; that is enough pressure without you yelling at them because they were being silly (aka: a kid) for a moment.
Relax and have fun. And consider yourself extremely lucky to be able to be placed in a sport that basically creates a like-mindedness between you and your child; sharing a passion for kayaking.