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(This article is the first one of a series of five)
In the recent years, there has been an increasing amount of very young paddlers. Teaching them to paddle requires a very different approach than teaching teenagers or adults. Here is a gathering of my top tips to anyone wanting to teach young kids how to paddle. They are dedicated specifically to kids under the age of 12 and focus primarily on making the experience of paddling enjoyable.
This week’s tip focuses on letting go of the idea that things will go to plan every time.

Mood swings. In trying to teach young ones to paddle, you will first need to get accustomed to the fact that all you planned ahead can quickly be turned upside down in a second. First, because small kids change their minds extremely quickly. One second they want the paddle, the next they don’t; one second they want to swim, jump in, have a race, paddle down… and the next they play on shore, are scared/cold/hungry, and simply refuse to get in their boat. As an adult, these mood swings can be extremely frustrating. Deal with it with a smile 🙂 What didn’t work today, will probably work next time. Your paddling session lasted 20min this time? It might last one hour next time. Don’t give up on the idea that paddling is extremely fun, but that it takes time. As young paddlers, they do, actually, have the luxury of time, so don’t make it sound like everything has to happen in a weekend.

Keeping it fun. Unlike other sports, most kids that get into paddling as youngsters do so because their parents introduced them to the sport. Simply said: to paddle makes mom/dad happy and they basically just want to join the fun. The second paddling missions turn into too much frustration, disappointment and small arguments; the second young kids will turn their backs to something less stressful, so keeping it fun is crucial at that age. This may sound simple, but it’s not. When you spent time preparing everyone’s gear, drove a while to find the perfect spot, brought food and water to last the day (…) only to find out that your young one was happy to paddle 20 min then swim the flat water and look for tadpoles instead, keeping your cool might be harder than you think! If you can’t create a greater diversion, well… maybe it was time for ice cream anyways! That said, this does not mean that you can’t challenge the young ones and that you should give up as soon as they start whining; try instead to turn the challenge into a game: “I bet you can’t catch me down this wave train”, “Want to paddle to the bridge and check out what’s there”, “look at the fish in this eddy”, “what if we did the whole section one last time and have mommy film us”, etc.

Adapting content and length… to mood and weather. Want to make sure that your paddling session does not turn into a total disaster? Two rules: 1. feed them + 2. keep them warm! You will simply go nowhere on empty tummies and cold bodies. For kids, I believe neoprene is still the greatest; keeps warm, protected from small impacts and adds a bit of flotation. Yes, swimming in the current and getting out of their boats on their own are extremely important skills to learn, but on cold days, I’d for example save those drills for last if I want the session to last.