Adult Lessons from Teaching Kids to White Water Kayak

This past week I was lucky enough to teach beginner white water kayaking with the NOC Paddlesports Kids Kayak Camp. With a goal to do a great job teaching it was soon learnt that I was learning more from the kids than the other way. Reflecting on the week here are a few lessons kids taught me.

Lesson 1 – Have plan for every kid.

Making wet exits a game makes being in kayaks fun. These guys worked on swimming while more advanced kids worked on running rapids.

The first lesson I learnt on the Cherokee’s Oconaluftee was that kid’s groups can be super diverse in skills. Trip Leaders Andrew Koch and Rachel Dean had divided the kids camp into two van groups based on skills. Even within our development group there was a big difference between gung ho 16-year-old Hugh and timid 11-year-old Reese. Rachel further individualized the instruction assigning instructors to work with the most timid kids, most aggressive, and a group right in the middle. This kept kids in mindsets of both confidence building and being challenged.

Lesson 2 – Are you having fun?

Instructors Mark Taylor and Eli Castleberry play the paddle pass game during a Nantahala shuttle.

It seems obvious to have fun with kids but there are plenty of stressors related to leading kids down white water. And just keeping up with their 16 hours/day of nonstop energy can be a challenge. And short attention spans get bored. Games and having fun were the solution. Even just participating in a splash war kept the days exciting and gave breaks from strokes and lessons. Some of our favorites were splash wars, swimming rapids, rock skipping contests, paddle circle game, sharks and minnows, and kayak ultimate.

Lesson 3 – Recognition is King.

Everyone loves to be recognized. Rachel Dean bought the group ice cream as a recognition reward.

Teaching a group of kids ages 11 to 16 often has an attention limit. I noted that each time the instructors called the group together for kayak lessons we’d see them go out and try the new skills for a limited time. Skills like holding ferry angles, edging, strokes and turning were progressing. But higher levels of excitement were engaged when Eli pulled gummy worms from his jacket and offered rewards. Now, the kids were charging and competing for the penny value candy. Later, Rachel gave points for the kids whom helped load boats most. She even bought 15-year-old Daniel a burger and fries and the group ice cream. And at the banquet every kid was recognized with noted accomplishments and prizes.

Simple Recognitions: candy, create a point system for skills, define a skill then recognize it with a pat on the back and a verbal “good job,” publicly group recognize desired behaviors by individuals.

Lesson 4 – Are the kids prepared? And what about your own preparedness?

Brother and sister, Tucker and Reese, team carry their kayaks to the Tuckaseegee “Dip” rapid.

It’s no surprise that kids forget things. So, Rachel made certain to teach kids the 5 essentials. Taking from that lesson each day the instructors would have the kids go get their 5 essentials and carry them to the trailer as a ticket to get in the van. Just in case boss man Tosh Arwood asked, “Can you load an extra set of gear, somebody’s going to forget something.” That would be me forgetting my river shorts in the drier. Thanks Mark Taylor for the shorts.

Lesson 5 – Being Present

Tough girls make the best kayakers.
Annabell Plush at the Chattooga Section 3 putin shooting rock skipping conest.
Did you know you can surf a kayak on a river? It’s fun and easy to learn.
It’s hard to be more present than running your first big rapid on the Chattooga’s Section 3. High Five!
Blog author David Hughes towing one to shore after splash war turns to fun swim.

Are kids resisting activity based on a lifetime of couch and cyber surfing? I can’t quite place my finger on it but it appeared that some kids did not know how to be adventure active. Inviting inclusion of achievable skills, games, and recognition were the best solutions observed. Instructor Mark Taylor kept the most-timid kayaker in the group super engaged on the last two days by inviting Reese to paddle the Dynamic Duo. Reese went from being scared of rapids to surfing and spinning her paddle as Mark called out, “Paddle Twirl.”

Engaging Solutions: invitations to activities, recognitions and rewards, inclusive games, and keeping the event fun.

Thanks NOC Paddle Sports for the learning opportunity.

Interested in NOC Kids White Water Kayak Camp. CLICKITY CLICK here. 

Keep Kayaking.