She made it sound like we were trying to subsist without food and water. Those were the days before television encroached on the boating world, not to mention VCRs and video games. Parents whose children were dependent on these entertainment devices simply couldn't imagine life without them. I often wonder what these people think children did before the age of electricity. Did they sit around and get bored? Far from it. Children in those days were creative, imaginative, ingenious, and highly active, and many still are. Moving aboard a sailboat, be it for a week, a month, or an extended cruise, can develop those same creative skills in any child lucky enough to be taken cruising.
The first thing to think about when planning a family cruise is whether some necessary groundwork needs to be laid. Are your children young, pre-adolescent, or teenagers? Are they dependent on entertainment devices, extra-curricular activities, and friends, or are they creative, imaginative, and used to being on their own? Do your children interact well together or are they used to going their separate ways? These are questions to ask yourself before heading offshore in the intimate, reduced confines of a sailboat.
Young children are the easiest to incorporate into the sailing life without much preliminary preparation. If their parents are happy and content, young children usually are too. Inherently adaptable, little ones will readily accommodate themselves to new surroundings, foods, cultural habits, and experiences with little fuss provided you, as parents, maintain your enthusiasm. Don't worry too much about what they will do all day on a sailboat. Given the opportunity, children possess an inate imagination capable of keeping them occupied day after day.
Don't worry if your children show no interest in sailing activities, but prefer to curl up with a book, play, or simply daydream. Provided they are happy and content, their satisfaction and sense of achievement will be as great as yours. Nothing can generate a rebellious child faster than trying to force an interest in sailing.
With older children, try to strike a balance between what they want to do and what needs to be done to help out with sailing proceedures. Most older sailing children love life out on the water with its inherent aura of excitement and natural outdoor focus. The best way to generate enthusiasm at this age (from about age eight up) is to give them a feeling of responsibily. Put the worries aside and let them row the dinghy on exciting explorations, shinny up the mast, swing off the pulpit on the spinnaker halyard, plot their own navigation course, dive under the keel, or do whatever other enterprises excite them. Older children will also respond well to sailing-related work if you keep the criticism to a minimum. Who cares if the mainsail furl looks a little sloppy, provided they tried hard to get it right.
As with everything else about cruising, keeping things simple will greatly enhance your chances of maintaining your children's enthusiasm. Bring along some well-chosen books, a handful of toys or games for bad weather days, then leave the rest to your children's creative instincts.While imaginative skills will soon have your youngest children fully occupied, a sense of adventure, independence, and self-reliance will keep your older ones equally enthusiastic. Nor will they be socially deprived, for the sailing community is a friendly one where friendships are forged quickly and all ages mingle well together. Gone is the contrived, present-day school atmosphere where only one's peers were regarded as acceptable friends. The sailing child quickly learns the value of friendship within its own right, regardless of age, gender, language, or culture. Consequently, cruising will encourage your children to broaden their view of the world as well as their own sense of self-worth, benefits which will keep them enthusiastic long after the cruise is over.
Children on Board by Kevin Jeffrey
Sailing With Children—The First Day by Michelle Potter
Schooling the Sailing Child by Kevin Jeffrey
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