Playing Safe Around Waterways, Part 1: Canoeing
"Wow! You take your kids in the ocean? You take them canoeing? You must be very brave."
I hear this at least twice a week. My Outside Kids are on-the-go kids, and we bump into neighbors all the time who stop and ask us those questions. We are visible in our small community and make quite an impact on passersby, whether we are on the beach, in the marsh at Dutton Island, or in the ICW. (Intracoastal Waterway).
Risky play allows the children to develop the three C's of Forest Kindergarten: courage, competence, and confidence. That's how we feel brave.
Safety always comes first and when we get that down, we can go anywhere! There are a few basics we have in place before we embark on our adventures. Miss Savannah and I have received Open Water Lifeguard Training certificates. We are very familiar with our local neighborhood waterways. Savannah grew up surfing on our beach and I have been an avid paddle boarder for many years. We know our ocean and we know our intracoastal waterway like we know our own backyard. Because, hey, it is our backyard!
We have an EAP that we follow to the T. That’s an Emergency Action Plan. It is described in our parent handbook so that our families will feel comfortable with our response if an emergency situation happens. In addition, we always let our friendly neighborhood park rangers know our plans. So that’s what comes first.
Next, we check the weather, wind and water conditions and tidal charts and make a tentative plan for the day. With 8 little ones, tentative plans are the best plans! Now, how do we prepare the children? We have small classes. 8 children per day. We are a relationship-based practice and that means we earn the children’s trust through positive intimate relationships with them and their parents. This takes time, so early on in the school year, we host events and gatherings at our field trip locations. We have only a few safety rules and we are very clear about them.
And we practice them a lot, on dry land first, then near the water and finally in the water. We place the canoe on dry land and show the children how to properly get in and out of it. It rocks a little bit which helps familiarize them with the instability of a canoe on water. They learn how to hold on with both hands while stepping over the support bars. They practice the best way to sit down and stay down and then stand up and get out. Then, we do it all over again with our PDFs (life jackets) on.
We practice again in the shallow water, just enough to float the canoe. Then we practice again, in about a foot of water where we can wade in and out of the canoe. When every child can get in, sit down, stand up, and get out, it's a really big accomplishment! That means we are big enough to go on a real adventure to celebrate. This entire process takes about 3-4 weeks.
We reinforce our safety rules through repetition with fun rhymes, songs, and chants that we recite on the way. "When can you go in the water?" we sing out. "With a teacher!" they all shout in reply! A child may only go in the water with a teacher. If you forget, you have to sit on a blanket and wait to try again, and again, until you can be safe.
We help the children stay alert and aware of their surroundings. We teach them to find landmarks, look at the water and wind conditions, and determine the tide. We bring a water jug and water bottles to keep us hydrated and snacks to keep our energy level up.
Sometimes we bring along some scientific instruments like pails, shovels, and nets. And of course, sun block and a change of clothes. Splash!
When all of the above are firmly in place, "Off we go on an Outside Kids adventure" with our courage, competence, and confidence. This is what makes us brave!