Re: What Cruising Kids (and dogs) do...
We started sailing with our two boys when they were 6 months and 2 years old. They are now 12 and 14. Right now they are running propane from the stern to our stove (mid cng to propane conversion). Only minimal attitude increases as the day wears on. We're getting ready to head out cruising (34 days to departure) so it's all hand on deck.
But obviously that's not really how you entertain young kids or the activity of choice for a couple of teens. :-) Current favorites are Dungeons and Dragons (abreviated version with only a notebook and a few dice), legos, and of course actual sailing/skippering the family boat. And good books if it isn't too rough.
When we first started sailing we used to bring an extra person to hold the baby (it took two of us to sail back then). When we graduated from the club boats and bought our own boat (kids ages 2 and 4) we had designated "boat toys" that they played with endlessly. These toys were only on the boat. Mr. Potato was very popular, as were those magnadoodles (modern equivalent to an etcha sketch). In fact all these years later and now living aboard, the "boat bear" from our first boat had to be brought on board.
We never allowed electronic games and only movies as a family at night until we moved aboard full time. We would sing in the cockpit, and at bedtime we had special books that "lived" on our weekender boat. The kids had a few cannisters of non messy snacks they could raid at any time.
When they were little we started with short sails and gradually worked our way up to longer days aboard. We were always big on destination sailing. They have their favorite yacht clubs and we often joke that we do the Gelatto tour of the bay (san francisco). My advice to families of young children is get them involved in every aspect of boating, from picking what provisions you'll have for dinner to where you'll go for a weekend on the boat. Use the time on the boat as family time, not time for everyone to veg out in their own electronic world. Sing, play, explore.
When my oldest was little we used to hook a dummy line up to an unused winch and everytime we tacked we'd do the standard "helms to the lee" he'd pull it. He thought he was actually helping sail the boat. I should mention that he is now a serious racer sailing on a Farr 36 with an all adult crew and was shocked to learn a few weeks ago about the dummy line when he overheard me giving some advice to a mother with young children. Our first boat didn't have a steering wheel lock so we taught him to steer a straight course down the channel while we raised sails, fixed lunch etc (one of us was always with him in the cockpit). I have pictures of him at the helm at about age 5, completely at ease, leaning on the lifeline looking over the side of the boat with one hand on the wheel (his dad sits the same way).
When they got a little older (9 or so) we found mad libs very popular for light wind days. My younger more sedate kid will sit in the companionway and ask us for a "noun, verb, etc". I even found some slightly more adult ones (PG rated not extremely adult) that I've stashed for the trip down with the baja-haha.
Well I better go. I was supposed to be looking something up on the computer, but I think they've caught on to my unscheduled break.... ooops. I'll go appease them with chocolate and all will be forgiven.