How A Boating Lifestyle Helps Children Develop

Got Kids? Get a Boat!

How A Boating Lifestyle Helps Children Develop

What kind of mother loads her kids into a dinted 17-foot aluminum boat at 10 o’clock at night to navigate down a dark river? With skeeters chomping at our ears and ankles, I huddle my kids in the bow where they use keen eyes and flashlights to spot the buoys so we can navigate the channel. When we arrive at the other end, there are multiple loads of gear to be carried up from the dock. Sound like fun? For my family its heaven and as it turns out—very good for them too!

You see, I come from a boating family. My grandparents lived aboard their boat. I was raised at the multi-generational family cottage only accessible by boat and I developed a love of canoe camping after five summers of working in Algonquin Park. I always new my early life on the water shaped my life, but it was only later as I trained to become a psychotherapist and parenting expert that I truly came to understand just exactly how and why.

Times have changed for city kids. We are a generation of “helicopter parents” raising “bubble wrapped” kids and with it, the largest growing diagnosis we see clinically is childhood anxiety. Surprising? No! The boating culture offers an antidote. In a day and age when many children are no longer allowed to play in the park alone, ride their bicycles freely around the community, and many don’t even have the most basic responsibility of loading the dishwasher or packing their own lunches anymore, life on the waters spotting buoys at night is just what the doctor ordered!

Time to get some GRIT and GRINS for our children. With today’s busy family life, the Vanier Institute reports that the majority of our “family time” is used driving children to extra-curricular lessons where they spend time with OTHER adults. Racing from Kumon to karate and eating at the drive through may seem the norm for families. But is it a healthy norm? Boating on the other had, requires your entire family to all be in one (small!) space, at one time, and most likely working together as a team to make the outing. When did that last happen in your house?

Daniel Pink’s wildly popular book “Drive” talks about each humans basic need for experiencing autonomy, mastery and purpose. I have my own version called the “4 A’s” which ensure proper mental health and development that I’ll discuss at my seminar at the Toronto Boat Show which runs January 12 to 20th at the Direct Energy Centre. I’m speaking (and showing some fun family photos) at 1pm on Saturday about my childhood, how I raised my kids on the water to fulfill those 4 As. I hope you can join me. There will be give-aways and Q&A time too! See you Saturday at 1pm at the show!

  PS: Stick around and join me for "Confessions of Mamma Boaters" as I join Kathy Buckworth and Maureen Denis of Wee Welcome at 3pm to talk about the guilty pleasures and realities of raising kids on the water.

Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada's leading parenting experts. She is a best selling author and a regular contributor many online parenting sites as well as a columnist for Today's Parent. She is the parenting correspondent for CTV News Channel Express. You can catch Alyson every other tuesday on The Marilyn Denis Show.