KIS ColumbiaLk


Teaching kids to canoe is fun but it also poses it’s own challenges. Children and Youth are not just mini adults and it requires that you take special consideration in order to be successful. The following are suggestions, tactics, and activities you can use in order to be an effective canoeing instructor while working with kids and teenagers.


Have fun but stay safe. Make You have a duty of care to act as a “careful and prudent parent”. Make sure you have enough teachers, instructors, or volunteer leaders who are competent in performing rescues to have a reasonable ratio of students to leaders. Review health and consent forms, monitor weather conditions, stay close to shore, check in with students continually, and count heads often. Always maintain line-of-sight and the ability to communicate effectively with your students. And remember to regroup (raft-up) often and set clear boundaries for your activities.


Kids learn best when they are engaged. Try to incorporate an activity or game into every segment that you teach. Keep the pace up but careful not to overwhelm them. Try to make sure they get each new concept before moving on. Kids need rest and care, so check in with them, stop and take short water and snack breaks often and choose realistic goals in terms of distance to paddle with your group. Make sure students dress appropriately, layer up and down as necessary, reapply sunscreen, etc.

  • KISS – “Keep It Simple Silly”

Make sure your directions are short and to the point. Kids don’t like to sit still and listen for very long, so don’t make them! If you are having them sit and listen for longer than their age in minutes they are likely going to get bored, fidgety and stop paying attention. When teaching new strokes, maneuvers, or skills use the IDEAS acronym as a simple way to keep yourself on track:

  • Introduction – What is it called? what does it do? Keep it short.
  • Demonstration– Show them what it looks like several times without too much talking.
  • Explanation- How do you do it. 3 key points. Keep it short.
  • Activity – Majority of time. Detect and correct. Simple activity first, then a game if possible.
  • Summary. – Repeat intro. And explanation. Keep it short. Get students to tell you What it does, how it works, 3 key points.

A multisensory approach works well. Incorporate auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic ways of learning into your lesson segments. When using direct instruction of new strokes, separate these elements (don’t explain while you demo). Games, often accomplish all three. Consider using guided discovery and open questioning to get students to find out what happens rather than telling them. For example, have them do pivots by asking them what would happen if one paddler pries and the other draw, then let them try. Resist correcting minor details. Give them space to have successes and failures and remember to offer lots of encouragement.


Canoeing offers a great opportunity for youth to take on a leadership role. Let them do things for themselves, but be there to support them should they need it. For example, have them do a 4 or 6 person canoe carry if the boats are too heavy for 2 of them. Be aware of your students ages, abilities and experience and offer the appropriate level of leadership opportunity. Remember that you are ultimately in charge and double check anything to do with safety.



Games and activities are an excellent way to motivate youth to learn and keep them engaged. The following are games and activates for teaching a variety of canoeing theory and strokes.



Meet and greet circle

Sit down in a circle. Introduce yourselves. Share thee things: Your name, A favorite food, fruit or vegetable that starts with the same letter as your name, and your paddling experience. Good time to briefly go over the plan for the day.


Paddle Dance

Stand in a circle with each person holding their paddle straight up and down with the tip on the ground. Give commands Left or right and the group must move as one in the direction called and grab the new paddle in their new spot before it falls over. Now add spin, jump, touch the ground, etc. Speed up the commands as you go. As people paddles fall over, they are out and the circle gets smaller until only one person remains.


Barbarian’s Rush

Simply run down the beach in a mob holding your paddles as spears, swords, etc. You can only run as far as you can scream though. Seems really silly, and it is, but it’s a good way to warm or wake up a sleepy group or set the tone for a fun day.


Equipment relay

Set up teams in lines about 30 feet from a canoe (usually in 2 teams of 4-6). There should be a pile of equipment hallway between the team and the canoe (bailer, spare paddle, throw bag, painters (optional), etc. Call out the name of an item and the first person in line must run up, grab it, and attach it in the boat in the correct position. If they grab the wrong item or put it in the wrong place, they must put it back in the pile and run to the back of the line. Keep calling items and rotating through until all equipment has been placed. As teams finish they sit down.

Parts of a canoe song

Sung to the tune of “Head and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”. Students must run and touch that part od the canoe as the say the part’s name. Increase the speed as you go. You can change the lyrics to suit the parts present in your canoe or which you want the kids to learn. For example:

“Bow and seat and stern and thwart, stern and thwart, stern and thwart,

Bow and seat and stern and thwart, gunwale, float, yolk and hull…”


Side-Slip Race

Have two canoes line up about 1 boat length apart facing the same direction. Call left or right (port or starboard) and they must use draws and pry’s to try and catch each other by touching hull to hull (or a tag on the other boats gunwale using the paddle) Every 5 – 10 seconds call “switch” of the name o the opposite direction. Any gains they have made now are to the other canoes benefit! Keep going or 1 - 2 minutes, until everyone has won, or until everyone is exhausted. Change sides and try again. Good way to practice draws, pry’s.

            Sweep Battle

Have two canoes line up about 1 boat length apart facing opposite directions. Call forward sweeps and boats chase each other using only forward sweeps. Whoever catches up to the other boat first wins. Usually a tag on the other boats gunwale using the paddle. Can be played using reverse sweeps also. Good way to practice sweeps.

Follow the leap frog.

The boat all paddle in a long line. The lead boat decides where to paddle and everyone else must go where they go. Every 30 seconds to a minute yell “leap” and the back boat must paddle quickly up to the front to become the new leader. The ‘leaping’ boat doesn’t have to follow the route. Make sure the leader doesn’t paddle too fast. Works well in spots with obstacles like anchored boats, buoys, rocky shore lines. Good way to practice all strokes.


Launching/ Swamped Canoe Relays

Set up teams in lines about 30 feet from shore (usually in 2 teams of 4-6). First person runs down, puts paddle in canoe, then runs back and tags a partner. Both run down and get in canoe properly-bracing canoe for each other. Paddle canoe out and around buoy 20 meters from shore. Get back and get out of canoe properly, then run up with paddles to tag next team members. Next two team members. Next team members repeat process but omit spin. Halfway back (10 meters from shore) they flip and must self rescue and empty boat fully and place it on shore. You can make lots of variations. Good for reinforcing launching and landing skills, self rescue, etc.

Tail Tag

Attach small strips of flagging tape to the bows and sterns of all canoes. Set your boundaries and then have students try to steal as many ‘flags’ as they can. Everyone is ‘it’, and everyone can keep stealing even if they have lost both of their flags. Whoever has the most ‘flags’ at the end wins. Discuss what worked for the winners and try again. Important point: No one can hold onto another boat. NO GRABBING. Good way to practice all strokes.

Trash to Treasure

Set your boundaries. Distribute 10-20 tennis balls or rubber ducks about in the water randomly. It works best I you have two different colours. Students must manoeuver to grab them or a point and then throw them back in the water. They cannot grab the same piece o treasure twice in a row, though. They may be asked to call out the number they are on loudly each time to increase excitement and decrease cheating at the end. Whoever has the most in a set amount of times wins. 2 – 3 minutes is good. Discuss what worked best for the winners and try again. Good way to practice all strokes.

Pirates Booty

Set your boundaries. 1 canoe is a pirate boat. All the other canoes are given two pieces of treasure (tennis balls or rubber ducks). The pirates must tag a canoe with their paddle to demand a piece of treasure. They can’t tag the same canoe twice in a row. Once a canoe has lost both o it’s pieces o treasure, they become part o the pirate fleet- they cannot tag, but they can bow people in and if it’s hot out and everyone agrees, they can splash people too. Important point: No one can hold onto another boat. NO GRABBING. Good way to practice all strokes.



Canoe Polo

Set your boundaries. Use buoys to make to gaols about 25 meters apart. Use a beach call or similar large floating ball. Split the boat into two teams. And see who can use manoeuvre and use their paddle to pass and shoot the ball into the opposing teams goal the most.

Time Fillers – Because sometimes it’s too windy to go on the water.

  • Sand Castles
  • Nature based treasure hunt
  • Octopus tag
  • Relay variations
  • Water fight
  • Orienteering
  • Diaper tag – use PFDs but wear as diapers, must cry and wait to have diaper changed when tagged.
  • Build a raft out of all of your gear and se whose floats. Or have a race around a buoy 10 meters out.
  • Others…Be creative and have fun!




A general outline of a 1.5 – 2.5 hour introductory canoeing lesson for youth. Adjust the times and content to fit the needs of your group. Remember to incorporate some of the suggested games and activities into the various segments to keep it fun, engaging and challenging.





Introduction and Gear

  • Introduction and name activity
  • Fit PFD’s
  • Fit Paddles
  • Go over basic safety equipment and how to store/use it
  • Look at boats and go over parts (bow, stern, gunwales…)
  • Assign Partners, stow gear etc.

20 min

Dry Land Strokes

  • Stand in circle – Show how to hold paddle
  • Introduce Paddle Parts
  • Practice basic strokes
    • Forward
    • Back
    • Pry
    • Draw

10 min

Getting into water and Paddling

  • Demonstrate how to launch a canoe
  • If necessary split into smaller groups
  • Teach each basic canoe stroke with a game or activity for practice.
    • Forward
    • Back
    • Pry
    • Draw
    • Possibly teach “J” stroke depending on group
  • Paddle a little in between each new segment. Take breaks?

30min – 1hr

Paddle and Games

  • Paddle with group to a new interesting location if possible.
  • Play a game or two. Take Breaks?

30 min – 1hr

Return to Shore

  • Demonstrate how to land
  • Return boats, PFD’s and other equipment
  • Have a very short debrief (What was easy, what was hard, what did they learn, what do they want to learn?)

15 min