Adapting water activities for kids of multiple ages

This post was written by Sara McCarty, founder of Run Wild My Child, in partnership with Destin-Fort Walton Beach.

If you have more than one kid, you know that it’s often hard to find activities that keep multiple kids of various ages interested and happy. What interests my toddler is boring to my tweens. And catering to the big kids means the little guy gets frustrated because he can’t keep up. It’s a constant battle to appease everyone and pick activities that work for the whole family. Isn’t parenting great?!

However, through much trial and error, we’ve found that the best activities for keeping everyone happy involve open-ended exploration and water! Something truly magical happens when you “just add water” to any kids’ activity.

Big and little kids can often enjoy the same water-based adventure (with a few tweaks), making them memorable experiences that bond the family together. Here are a few ways you can adapt popular water-based activities for kids of multiple ages, making them fun, safe, and accessible for everyone.

Two kids play in the surf on Okaloosa Island during sunset

Kayaking

Depending on the age/size of your kids, they can join you in your kayak or paddle along next to you in their own! If you’re sharing a kayak with a little one, be sure to give them some tasks to keep them interested and involved, such as wildlife spotter, navigator, or snack master. Let older kids have some independence with their own kayak. You might be surprised at how quickly and easily they learn to use their paddles and navigate, boosting their confidence and sense of accomplishment.

Stand-up paddle boarding

Kids of all ages love stand-up paddle boarding. Little kids can sit on a SUP next to their grown-up’s feet, if they’re not ready for their own board. Kids learning how to SUP can sit or kneel on the board, lowering their center of gravity and keeping the SUP stable. Older kids can man their own SUP and explore independently. And SUPs are great for games and competitions. Try a game we call “Paddle Battle,” where two kids stand on opposite sides of the board, facing each other, and rock the board from side to side to try to get the other person to fall off the board first!

Tide pooling

Kids are naturally curious, and kids of all ages can usually find some kind of amazing treasure wherever they go, which makes exploring a tidepool a great water-based activity for the whole family. Little kids may be content to splash in a shallow pool of water or play with a net. For older kids, come up with a specific list of items for the kids to search for, or just see what you happen to come across and look it up with an app on your phone. Your kids will learn so much about the local marine wildlife in the area from exploring (and it won’t even feel like learning). This connection will help foster a deep appreciation for nature and the environment around them.

Beach time

Kids of all ages can enjoy the beach, but if your little kids are overwhelmed with the ocean/wave, bring along a mini-inflatable pool, which you can fill with water for safe splashing and playing. Older kids may want to try something active and challenging at the beach, like skimboarding, surfing, snorkeling, or boogie boarding. No matter the age, don’t underestimate the appeal of shovels, nets, and buckets for digging in the sand, building sandcastles, catching critters, or burying dad.

Fishing

Little kids love the act of “catching” fish but may easily get bored. If you’re starting out casting a line from the shore, encourage taking breaks, exploring the area, playing in the sand/water, and coming back when ready. If you’re new to fishing or fishing in a location that’s unfamiliar, consider heading out on the water with a charter. Remember, not all charters are the same, so if you’re just starting out, a beginner inshore fishing trip is the perfect introduction. Charter Captains are knowledgeable about all the best locations, techniques, and bait. Plus, they are usually great with kids and will help get them on the fish for fast-action fun. Older kids will not only have a longer attention span to head offshore a bit further, but will usually be curious about the fishing process and the biology of the bait and catch. Use this to your advantage by answering questions and fostering an appreciation of local wildlife.

Whether you have tiny babies, toddlers, tweens, or teens (or a combination of them all), consider adding a water-based activity to your vacation itinerary to take the fun to the next level!

A kid fishes off the Island Pier in Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Sara McCarty is the founder of Run Wild My Child, an online resource all about getting kids (and their parents) off screens and outside adventuring together. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and is determined to raise her three city kids to be as wild and feral as possible. You can usually find her family exploring a creek, fly fishing, hiking, duck hunting, camping, canoeing, biking, or geocaching. She loves to travel and showcase unique destinations with outdoor family-friendly activities. She’s passionate about reading, photography, oysters, plants, coffee, cooking, and key lime pie.

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