THE TODDLER JOB DESCRIPTION READS AS FOLLOWS: unlimited, but undirected mobility; boundless, unfocused energy; loud vocalizations; insatiable appetite for treats; frequent physical mishaps requiring cleaning, soothing and Band-Aids; an uncanny ability to find trouble and irresistible cuteness (a survival trait). The bad news is that this resume doesn’t match up with pleasant canoe cohabitation. The good news is that things aren’t any better at home, in the backyard, or in the car, so you might as well endure the trial on the water. Need more reasons to just go? This stage will pass, and at some holiday years from now you’ll gather around the family photo album and be really glad you went. Oh yeah, one more bit of encouragement: There are ways to cope. Start by turning the canoe around. – Alan Kesselheim
Swap it. By swapping bow and stern, you gain the ability to solo the boat. Your toddler sits in the stern seat as if it were the bow. The adult paddler sits backward in the bow seat, almost midway in the hull, with overall control of the canoe.
Toddlers love a job. The genius is that young paddlers now think they are an integral part of the team. Give them a paddle. From the tapered end of the canoe they can reach the water more easily. In fact, by playing around and pretending to be a partner, they are actually learning some essentials about paddle strokes and reading water. Once in a great while, they can learn the merits of a draw stroke and save the moment (avoiding that rock in your line).
Watch their attention lapse. Toddlers may love a job, but they aren’t stellar at sticking with it. Inevitably, and frequently, the paddle will not be in use. They’ll want to turn around and chat, or find something to eat, or play a game. Provide a little snack bag that they get to control, a bucket of rocks they can plunk over the side of the boat, a rubber bath toy tethered to the canoe, a notebook that they can doodle in or keep track of the daily sights. All this while you keep stroking along, taking care of business.
Check the seat. Flat (cane or webbing) seats work best. Tractor-style seats don’t work at all. Roto-molded plastic seats sometimes can be made to work. It may help to place a foam pad on top of the seat to cushion the contours. If you know there will be toddlers in the paddling picture, check the seats out carefully when shopping for the family canoe.
Sell the trip. Success hinges on the parental sales pitch. Convince your child that they are your partner, and that they hold the key to the survival of the species. Do that and you’ve won the game. Go backward, keep having fun. Keep making memories.
This feature originally ran in the 2011 Beginners Guide.
–Read more: StartPaddling.com