RAFTING WITH KIDS: YES, YOU CAN

We haven't had a summer like this for 10 years; since we last fussed and obsessed over every small movement and moment that our firstborn experienced when we took her out on adventures small and big.

Was she okay?

Was she having fun?

Was there a way we could we make it more fun?

Wheeeee...this merry-go-round/playground/choo-choo train is SO MUCH FUN!

And then kids number two, three and four came along and I feel like one of us was perpetually turfed to the periphery—while the other hogged all the fun with the "big kids".

Someone had to feed or change or shush the baby or chase a toddler or push the stroller. And often times, the most tired grown up just stayed home with the youngest kid rather than hold the rest of the family back from having a good time. 

But this summer is going to be different. 

We now have four walking, talking, non-napping, self-feeding tiny humans in our charge. 

The world is ours to conquer.

The adventures are waiting. 

Fun is around the corner.

When we were offered the chance to take them on a rafting trip, we gave an enthusiastic OH YEAH! instead our usual knee-jerk ARE YOU CRAZY?

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Here's a round-up of what it was like to paddle down the Grand River (just over an hour west of Toronto) with four kids between the ages of four and 12: 

Safety first: we were introduced to our wonderful guide, Katie, who reassured us that none of our family members would tumble out of the raft at anytime during our trip. She then led us through a very kid-friendly safety lesson and provided each of the kids with easy-to-understand tips for handling a kid overboard situation. They were equal parts fascinated-mortified at the thought of being carried downstream by the current. Each of us were then outfitted with life jackets. Crisis averted.

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Paddle: We climbed into the raft and pushed off from the Grand River Rafting launch area in Paris, Ontario. It's a popular (catch-and-release) fishing area, and a gorgeous and peaceful stretch of water to spend time with your kids: turtles, birds, chipmunks, geese and ducks in abundance. The rapids are beginner level and the water is consistently shallow.  

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On the water: The raft was spacious and easy to move around inside of for the purpose of stretching legs, grabbing a drink of water or re-applying sunscreen. There was plenty of musical oars happening with the kids, too, as the youngest one declared it necessary to sit here, there, here, there, here, there. You get the idea. 

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Natural springs: Right about the time that the fidgeting reached epic levels (I'm looking at you four-year-old), we paddled up to a naturally-occuring spring along the bank. We were able to pull the raft up onto the shore and get out of the boat to get up close to the spring and have a sample. We also saw tiny minnows and tadpoles in the shallow water. 

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To the woods: We got back into the raft for another while, and headed towards a hiking trail on the opposite bank. Again, we were able to pull our raft onto the bank before being led on a family hike by our very knowledgable (and patient) guide, Katie. She took us along a beautifully wooded path and pointed out several educational aspects of the surrounding forest.

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We sampled berries right off the tree—but not the poisonous kind, which Katie very carefully taught the kids to avoid—and got up close with some of the teeny creatures that hide in the shade of the woods. Our eight-year-old—who just finished reading Charlotte's Web—enjoyed this part of the trip most. She's our most outdoorsy kid; always keen to learn more about nature. She had her hand up asking and answering questions for Katie.

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We had a moment of regression and had to take turns handling the four-year-old to prevent her from throwing herself down some steep embankments—especially after Katie took the time to point out stinging nettle plants and poison ivy plants (just looking at it makes you itchy).

She also taught the kids about jewelweed and how it could be used as a natural anecdote to either of the aggressive plants. And when we got ravaged by mosquitoes, she ripped off some Burdock leaves and opened the stems for the kids to rub on their bites. Katie was raised with plenty of time outdoors and went on countless camping excursions, during which she and her siblings were taught how to live off the land. In other words, they camped without hot dogs and s'mores!

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By the time we reached the end of the trip, we had paddled about 13 km. JB and I were so proud of how much the kids all pitched in with the paddling (they were sore the next day from the work out). 

Tips for next time: I would recommend packing separate water bottles, as well as separate snack containers. Sharing just facilitated more moving around the raft that wasn't necessary. I would also recommend a pair of binoculars for any kids interested in seeing the wildlife more closely. Bug repellent would have been handy for the walk through the woods, too. 

We did manage to pack hats, water resistant shoes, and plenty of sunscreen. All came in handy.

There was opportunity to go swimming off the side of our raft, too. If we had not had our youngest with us, who as this point had thrown her hat over her face and put herself down for a nap, we would have given it a try for sure. 

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Thank you: The kind folks at Grand Rafting shuttle you back to your vehicle, so there is no worry that you have to turn around and do it all again upstream—though it would be a fun challenge (without a raft full of hungry kids).

Thanks to the generosity of Heart of Ontario, we headed to the well-known and very popular Burger Barn near Ohsweken on the Six Nations reserve. We were starving and the food was the perfect way to end a busy day. The kids LOVED their meals—though they opted for the kids' chicken wings—and JB and I really enjoyed our burgers. 

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It was a perfect way to spend a the day and a fantastic kick-off for our epic summer adventures. Watch this space to see what else we get up to and, of course, I'd love hear some ideas from all of you.

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Thank you to Heart of Ontario and Grand River Rafting for extending this offer to our family. I was not compensated for this post, but we did have a complimentary trip.

Thank you to Burger Barn for the delicious lunch.

Thank you to our wonderful guide, Katie. The world needs more gentle spirits like you.

If your family is keen to explore more of the region, be sure to check out the Red, White & True Canadian Heritage Passportwhich has 20 offers (and over a $400 savings) for heritage sites, museums and activities across the region.

You can also find ongoing special offers here.

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Elan Morgan

Elan Morgan is a writer and web designer who works from Elan.Works, a designer and editor at GenderAvenger, and a speaker who has spoken across North America. They have been seen in the Globe & Mail, Best Health, Woman's Day, and Flow magazines, TEDxRegina, and on CBC News and Radio. They believe in and work to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.