(This article is the fifth of a series of five)


In the recent years, there has been an increasing amount of 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 article reveals some of my favourite games to play with kids. They are all shortly explained, so you’ll have to use your judgement and imagination to adapt these games to the kids you which to teach.

TIP #5 Game on!

A. Exiting/Getting familiar with equipment

1.Paddle this. No spraydeck. Fill the boats with water and paddle around until they flip. If they manage too well, remove the use of a paddle or have them stand in their boat and try to paddle it as a SUP. If even that is too easy, flip the boats upside down and have them paddle it upside down.

2. First man out. Aline boats on shore. On your count, kids jump into their boats, take 10 strokes, flip and exit, then drag equipment to shore. First done wins.

3. Chicken! All paddle around (flat or current). When you scream ‘chicken!’, all flip and exit at the same time. First without thinking about equipment, then gradually still holding on to paddle, then even to both paddle and boat.

4. Garage sale! Throw paddles and boats randomly loose on the water. On your count, kids jump in, swim to gather their own gear, climb into their boat and paddle it to shore to empty.

5. House visit. All flip and exit, then put their heads inside their ‘house’ (boat upside down). On your count, kids need to leave their house and visit someone else’s. Alternatively, kids whisper a ‘house name’ to the visitors. The point is to remember everyone’s ‘house name’.

B. Boat balance

1. Keep it flat. Fill boats to half. Paddle around: forward, backward, turn. Use knees to flatten the boat and keep it steady.

2. My rock; my motor. Put a round rock (or stick) on the front or back deck. Pretend the rock is a motor. Paddle around without losing the rock. When you lose your motor (rock), you stop dead until another person brings you a new one.

3. To the rescue! Pretend one is hurt and needs help to get across the river; use grab handle at the back of the boat to hold on to and have the ‘rescued person’ simply hang on (and not help much by kicking). The drag created at the back should give enough challenge to the rescuer to make it across.

C. Working on strokes

1. 360 turn. Pretend playing with an imaginary ball that goes from front to back to front. You ‘pass it around’ using your paddle blade. This helps kids understand the forward sweep to backward sweep strokes.

2. Scare me! Paddle fast forward towards someone (trainer or parent), make a funny face as you get really close, paddle backwards to get back. Use the same game to train other strokes such as: paddle only on right/left, forward, backward, 3 strokes each sides, leaning one side, etc. Have trainer/parent chasing you on the return after a while.

3. Mamma duck; baby ducks. One shows the way (‘mamma duck’) using different types of strokes; the others (‘baby ducks’) do the same. Change the leader often to keep it entertaining and challenge then to vary strokes, directions (up/down/side) and angle of the boat (flat or on edge) to make it more difficult.

4. Skills course. Make a simple course to distinct features, for example: paddle forward to the rock, backwards up the eddy, 180 spin, quick traverse, and make a stop in the eddy across… think short and simple at first, then adapt as needed.

5. Big bad wolf. One is the wolf, the rest are sheep. The wolf tries to catch the sheep using the hand only. If caught, the sheep needs to do a trick (ex. 5 forward/backwards strokes or 360 spin or 3 strokes right + 3 strokes left, etc), then ‘freeze’. To be delivered, other another sheep needs to paddle over and touch the boat with a hand. Change the wolf often to keep it fun; add a wolf for bigger groups.

D. Reading whitewater

1. Show me vocabulary. Point at… moving water, flat water, eddy, waves, line between moving and calm water (eddy line), shallow, deep, left side, right side, tongue, etc…

2. Line talk. Talk the line, then paddle it. Think 3 easy steps: start-follow-stop, example: start in the eddy here, follow the wave train in the middle, stop in the eddy at the bottom on the left. Nb. Keep explanations very short, and show the path by pointing! For young beginners, skip the start and point their kayak in the right direction and have an adult wait for them at the end.

3. What line? Make as many possible line as possible. Think short and simple. Talk through and run all of them. To help vary, think start-follow-stop again, and vary at least one of them for each ‘new line’ (ex: same start and follow, but stop on other side). Have kids come up with suggestions.

E. Moving around in current

1. Catch it if you can. Throw a floating object in the current (sponge, ball, foam piece, empty plastic bottle…), wait 5 seconds, them have them fetch it.

2. Play it like a champ. Think of a simple line (ex. a simple straight forward wave train). Have them pick a sport each. Run the line as if playing the sport. Examples… Football: throw a ball, use front tip of the kayak only to move it around in the wave train, then score by pushing it in the eddy. Motorcycling/biking: hold paddle as a steering wheel and lean into eddy at the end. Basketball: have two and two throw the ball at each other while moving down. Hockey: hold paddle on the one end, use the other blade to slap the ball and pass it around.

3. Beach ball to win. Send teams of 2-4 players downstream while chasing a beach ball. The ball must be pushed by the blade and boats only; no hands, no holding the ball.

4. Treasure hunt. Throw small objects in the woods across the river (ex. rubber duckies, sponges, empty bottles, etc). Send teams of 2-3 players across to get the items. Make simple rules, ex: once all team players have one object, or bring items one and one across before getting a new one. Once ‘mission completed’, promise a little surprise (ex. lollypop each).

F. Surfing

1. Swim it. Choose a deep spot and an easy exit. Show how to jump in: land flat on tummy + swim on tummy/float on back with feet high. Either swim together or play fetch with a floating object.

2. Float it. Use something that floats (boogie board, swim board, air mattress, big piece of foam…), hold it in front of you and swim it down.

3. Surf it. Find a mini wave/hole. Think VERY small. Use something that floats and try to surf it. If in a kayak, ideally stand in water and hold the nose of the boat. Show how to use the back rudder to correct angle, and lean towards the foam and pull towards one of the sides to exit.

4. Make me a river. Use a mini side channel or dig one in the sand. Have kids place rocks to form waves/curlers/holes. Send a piece of foam or toy boat down to find out what it does.

Possibilities are endless. Remember to keep it fun and entertaining. Plug-in a few technical tips along the way to help them play better and more efficiently. Creating good technical habits is crucial for the learners to advance in skills later on. Yes, games are there to have fun, but the ‘better players’ they get, the ‘better paddlers’ they will become.

Last but not least: find me on Facebook or Messenger, and please share your favourite games. How awesome wouldn’t it be to post a much bigger list of learning activities and games at the start of next season?

Best of luck!

Valérie