Here is a formula for happiness….do the things you love to do with the people you love –as much as humanly possible. The great thing about being outside with little kids, besides watching them have a blast and learn how to suffer, is that they can remind us how to discover big adventure in the little things we take for granted. As a long-time river guide with kids (5-whoops!), I have spent a lot of time on the river with little ones and here are a few suggestions….
Keep them Safe
First of all, keep them safe right? This means if you’re not an expert–go with one..we must absolutely know the stretch of river and know it’s appropriate for the age of the kids floating with us. Little kids do not need whitewater to have fun. Use good equipment, that means a raft with plenty of space and high enough tubes to keep the little ones in and good life jackets that fit properly. The tendency is to put toddlers in pfds that are too bulky and push up on their chin…they won’t enjoy the float if they’re being choked by a bulky life jacket. It needs to fit well and be worn at all times.
Keep them Comfortable
Little kids get cold easy…and in the mountains, weather changes quickly so always have backup extra warmth for the kiddos. We bring a hat, fleece, splash jacket and kids 3mm wetsuit in the dry bag on just about every trip. Bring plenty of snacks and drinks for them. Remember sun protection too. Finally, for the first few outings–keep it short. Leave them wanting more and disappointed it’s over –as opposed to whining for the suffering to end. Build up to longer outings gradually.
Keep It Simple
It doesn’t have to be complicated to be fun. We have taken our 5-year-old out most summer evenings after work on a section just upstream from our house. It is along a road and not as scenic as some other sections that are further away, but there are fewer logistics and we always have fun. When possible have someone help with the shuttle so you don’t have to keep the kids waiting around. Since it’s flat water we’ll just take a small paddle raft instead of an oar rig which is heavier and requires more gear and people to carry sometimes.
Relax –Be Patient
What is the number one rule for rafting–that’s right. NO WHINING! Despite this, even the most “gifted” and amazing children–even your kids–will probably whine despite your best efforts. We are teaching them that doing fun stuff means that sometimes they might miss a nap and have to push through the pain, or that headwinds can be pure hell with three hypothermic wailing, three-year-olds in the boat. Every time they get worked up is an opportunity to show them that we handle discomfort and stress with a relaxed, capable, attitude. Someday they will pick up on that…
Finally, once you’re on the river with kids who are safe, comfortable and not hungry…they will reward you for your hard work in getting them out there by reminding you how easy it is to have fun with simple things like rocks, and sand, and bones, and water. Have a great trip–Missoula rafting gives you plenty of options to choose from. Hope to see you and the kids on the river.
Montana River Guides