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Whether you are boating with a one year old or other young children, it is vitally important to make sure that you have plenty of things to do. This is especially true when you are going to be on board a boat or houseboat.
In this article I will give you a list of 10 activities to do while on a boat with toddlers. These activity ideas can be done on a houseboat or pretty much any midsize or bigger boat.
These activities will be mainly centered on things that toddlers will have fun doing but these are things that really anyone a teenager or younger can do and have fun while doing.
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1. Play “Pooh” Sticks
If it has been awhile since you have seen Winnie the Pooh then you probably have no idea what in the world I am talking about. Pooh sticks is a game that Pooh plays with his friends when they are bored and looking for something to do.
Pooh sticks involves giving each person on board a stick or stick replacement. We have used water bottles, 2 liter bottles, etc. as well but make sure to retrieve them after you play. If you play with normal sticks from trees then you don’t have to retrieve them.
We also combine this with a little crafting as well so we let each child decorate their stick or bottle in whichever way they choose. This will help them know which item is theirs as well which is good for preventing arguments before they start.
After you have decorated your sticks or bottle you then throw them in the water and see which one is the first to a predetermined point. If you are on a river then just throw them in the water at the upstream part of the boat and run to the downstream end to see who’s “pooh stick” is there first. If you are on a calmer lake you will have to watch and see if there is waves or wake that is splashing against your houseboat that can be used for the competition.
This houseboat game can be fun for kids who are a bit older as well and shouldn’t be limited to just the toddlers if you have children in the 5-10 age range as well. Children much older than ten will probably find this game pretty boring but kids will take their cues from you so if you are excited about something they often will be as well.
2. Play a Stacking Game
Probably everyone has heard of Jenga and that would be a good activity for older children. They even have GIANT Jenga which can be played by teens and adults. Because of the difficulty in pulling blocks out without knocking over the tower then Jenga isn’t a good game for toddlers however stacking the Jenga blocks or other blocks or items can be great fun.
What we do is just divide the Jenga blocks or even normal building blocks up amongst the toddlers on board and then see who can stack them the highest. Since the boat will normally be moving a bit this is about the perfect amount of difficulty for most toddlers. We normally don’t put a time limit on it but if the children are slightly older than toddlers then you can give them a few minutes to see who can stack it the tallest.
This game can be played with blocks, bottles, or even cookies! Anything that is conducive to being stacked on each will work fine for this game. We will normally have them stack on the floor when using bottles and blocks but if doing cookies then we will do it at the table to try and prevent some of the mess on the floor.
If you have slightly older children then using odd shaped items or just playing normal jenga can be fun while also being more challenging because of the boat’s movement.
This game is great because it encourages toddlers to use their imagination on the best way to build a tall tower without it falling down. Some toddlers will simply make one single tower while children a little older will build on the sides to try and keep it steady. Always be sure to help the youngest children as they may have difficulty stacking the items if they are around the age of two.
3. Make Boats
Most toddlers love doing things with their hands and love to “help”. Making boats for each toddler gives them the opportunity to do both. Depending on the ages of the children you can just have them color on a two liter bottle after taking off the paper or you can make boats from newspapers or craft paper.
What we like to do is combine the two. With bottles you don’t have to worry about whether the boat will stay afloat or not so the decorations is really the only thing that the toddler needs to do. Have plenty of markers on hand for each toddler to decorate their boat how they want. We also will normally bring glue and paper to attach to the bottles.
One of our children love dragons so they will often glue “wings” onto their bottle and make “fire” come out of its mouth using the paper and markers. We have had one of our daughters make a unicorn boat as well by adding a horn, ears, and tail to her boat. The possibilities are endless and if the children are younger they can simply draw on the bottle with no paper or glue required.
4. Play in the Sand
Most of the time on your boat or houseboat you will be near a sandy beach. There is nothing toddlers love more than making a mess and the sand is a perfect place to do it! Building sand castles won’t work well for most toddlers but they will love digging in the sand, filling buckets, etc.
If the water you are on has a small stream that runs into the water you can direct that water into a “pool” on the beach for your kids to play without going into the deeper water. Simply digging a little pit will help toddlers have hours of fun without being near the main waterline.
If you are going to have fun in the sand make sure to have plenty of adults to watch all the toddlers carefully when playing in or near the water.
Older children will love to explore the beach or surrounding areas so the younger kids playing in the sand will allow everyone to be together while also each age group can have some fun of their own.
5. Feed the Animals
There will be all kinds of fish, birds, etc that you can feed while on board your boat. Many fish and virtually all birds will love eating pieces of bread so bringing an extra loaf or two and feeding them is a great way to spend an afternoon.
In some areas the gulls can get pretty aggressive so this idea won’t work everywhere but if there are mainly ducks and other small birds than feeding them is tons of fun for kids. Sub shops will often throw away the expired bread at the end of the day, so if you know someone who works at one or want to wait around until closing they will often throw out full bags of bread that can be used to feed the animals for free!
Be sure to help the youngest pull the bread apart but beyond that it is pretty easy for kids to do. They will love being able to see the fish and birds up close and watching them eat the bread is just a little bonus.
6. Fish for “Ducks”
So this one is a unique idea but our toddlers always loved it! Fishing is something that kids love doing when they are older but they often won’t have the patience to watch a bobber or the strength to hold on or reel in even a smaller fish, enter “fishing for ducks”.
What you do is use a fishing pole (normal or kids size will work) and get some rubber ducks from the store. We personally didn’t use yellow bath ducks but you can do that if you like. You then attach the duck to the fishing line. This can be done a variety of different ways but be sure and do this ahead of time as figuring it out with impatient kids around can quickly become frustrating.
You then cast the duck just like you would when fishing normally. Hand the pole to the toddler and let them reel the duck back onto the boat. If you can be sneaky and cast the line without them seeing it then it works even better but believe me, they can spend hours taking turns “fishing” just reeling the rubber duck in over and over again.
This can be done with rubber fish as well as any other toy that will normally float. You can do it with other toys but if they are heavy just be sure that it is attached to the line securely so it doesn’t go flying off and get lost in the lake or river.
7. Have a Water Fight
This activity can be done a variety of different ways from simply splashing each other to use water balloons and super soakers. What we prefer to do with our younger children is buy cheap squirt guns from a local store and then fill a couple of 3 gallon buckets with water. We then just let the kids go at it while on the deck.
With buckets that size the kids won’t run out of water for quite a while and the cheap squirt guns don’t hold much water and can be refilled just by dunking them in the water. That helps make this a relatively hands off activity for the adults that are on board.
If the kids are really young and wouldn’t be able to figure out the trigger on a squirt gun then you can give them plastic spoons and have them poor water from those on themselves or others as well. The buckets can be sand pails that you use for the beach as well but the more stable the bucket the longer it will last between fills.
This game can be played on board your boat or on shore as well depending on where you are at for the day. If you are having it on board be sure all electronics are put away and the kids know what not to get wet if you have things or places on board that you want to keep dry.
8. Play in the Water
Now obviously playing in the water when you are on a boat is a relatively obvious suggestion, however I will go a little different route.
This can be a perfect opportunity to help your younger kids conquer their fears of water or even of jumping into the water as there will be lower heights for them to jump off of into the water. Of course make sure that everyone has the proper safety gear on and pay close attention but using this time to conquer fears can be incredibly helpful to make them more comfortable around the water.
I really didn’t learn how to swim until I was in my 20s. My mom had tried to teach me a couple of times but I had never been in water over my head much and was always fearful of being anywhere near it. In my 20s I moved to a place that had a community pool and I became confident in my swimming ability for the first time.
Having your children overcome their fear of water or even fear of jumping at a young age can boost their self confidence A LOT! My wife and I just finished getting an inground pool installed in our back yard about a year ago. Included with that pool build was a slide and a waterfall that is probably 5 feet above the water. When we first got into the pool this year my 8 year old was going down the slide jumping into the pool from the edge and more but my 4 year old was scared.
By the end of the summer season both of them were going down the slide and jumping off the 5 foot waterfall into the deep end without a moment’s hesitation. In just a few months the confidence grew substantially in both of them and they both love spending time in the water.
By playing around in the water now with your toddlers they will slowly become used to jumping in and swimming around, etc. and will be much more confident in other areas of their lives as well. Playing in the water can be a great opportunity to help them grow as a person while having some fun.
9. Play with RC Boats
When I was a child I loved playing with my remote control cars. I had one that I would use all the time in the house or on the driveway and always had a blast chasing my siblings with it or just driving it around.
As time passed RC cars have become less and less expensive and more and more elaborate. A few years ago I was at a store and saw that they had remote control boats! Of course I had never seen those before so that was cool but what really surprised me was how fast they could go. Some of those boats went 15-20mph! The havok I could have done in my house or yard with a remote controlled car that went that fast would have been unimaginable!
Surprisingly, the cost for these remote control boats was mostly under $50 which was even harder to believe!
Now whether you let the children drive the boat or not would depend on their age as well as their maturity. You obviously don’t want them plowing the RC boat into the side of your houseboat at 10mph and destroying the RC boat or damaging something important. Even if you don’t let the toddlers drive and instead have them watch as you pilot the boat in circles around your boat they will still have tons of fun.
Most RC boats have batteries that last 45-60 minutes of flat out running so you should be able to get double that time if you aren’t running it full out the whole time. Some RC boats also come with an additional battery so you can charge one while using the boat with the other battery.
10. Camp on Deck
One of the fun things about a vacation is trying new things. If this is the first time that your toddlers have been out on the water then there will be lots of firsts on your trip. Laying out under the stars can be nice but depending on the time of year it can be a little chilly or you will have to battle a lot of bugs. The solution to that is pitch a tent on deck!
You can tie the tent down to the deck using the many different points along the rail or if the bugs and cold aren’t an issue just camp under the stars with nothing but sleeping bags. The adventures of your trip is what your children will remember and camping on the boat is a great way to build lasting memories.
What we like to do is set up the tent before it gets dark (to help minimize the stress) and then we will hang a battery powered lantern or something inside to light it up. We will then read books, tell stories, or play games inside the tent until it’s time to go to sleep.
If the toddlers on board are very young then you can even by a little play tent that they can play in and around all day long as just leave it set up. My 1 year old daughter has a little pink castle tent that is set up inside our house and she just loves to sit in it and eat her snack or just play with toys. I don’t know what it is about having a tent set up but kids (and many teens) just love the adventure of it.
That wraps up our list of 10 boat/houseboat activities to do with toddlers. Many of these things can be done with older children as well but I hope the list has sparked your imagination of things you can do with your little ones. There are obviously many more activities and things that you can do but I tried to make this list a little bit different and not just the same old things that everyone always does on board.
Whatever you decide to do always be sure to make sure any kid on board is wearing properly sized safety gear to help keep them safe while you are on the water.