During the summer months we hosted multiple “Micro Waterman Camps” for kids between 3 and 7 years old. The camps were open for all and we were surprised by the diversity of participants when it comes to prior knowledge about and experience with watersports. Some were kids of parents who themselves were passionated windsurfers or kiteboarders, some were parents who had already bought the Whipper1 but wanted their kid to have a fun experience with other kids and instructors. Some were kids and their parents wanting to try out watersports, and the rest were simply looking for a fun summer adventure.
When counting the number of camps, approximately 40 kids visited us in Vorupor and Copenhagen, 5-6 kids on each camp. To put it short - they all had a great experience - and so did we!
So… How do you actually make a windsurf camp for kids?
Before this summer we had never taught kids this age before, so designing the entire event was done in best trial-and-error-manner. The first camp taught us a one thing and the next one another and so on..
To make it fun, friendly and non-scary for the kids, we put out some huge balloons that could be used as a track in the shallow waters. This made it easier to explain what was going to happen, and it made it obvious where they were going and how far. Every camp started out with the necessary wetsuit-and-vest-charade, but we made it relaxing and fun by greeting each child and parent as well as giving everyone enough time to get ready.
Next step was gathering the kids, introducing ourselves and talking about what was going to happen. Of course parents prepare their kids for what they’re about to experience, so every kid had inputs and the talk was easy! Next up was a short introduction to the gear and getting over any possible fear by running into the water with each other in the hands and touching all the balloons. Getting back to the beach highfives and praise were first on the agenda. This way the kids had a success experience early on - and that's a good start!
Well.. We could go on forever talking about the event, but instead we’re going to walk you through the 5 most essential learnings we’ve acquired..
1. How to talk about the wind & setting up gear
The most difficult thing is explaining principles of the wind to kids this age, that are not yet cognitive reflective to a level where proper teaching is meaningful. We tackled this by blowing soap bubbles and watching them fly way. This way we could talk about wind direction and how it’s always a good thing to have the wind in your back, when you’re on the water. The key is to let the kids join in and set the tone for the conversation and define it. The smallest ones might just enjoy blowing the bubbles, but there’s always one or two kids who are quick to understand and point out where the wind is coming from.
We prepared the equipment beforehand so it lay ready on the beach. Because the Whipper1 is simple, the kids were shown how to put fins on the board and connect the sail to the board too - and believe it or not - the LOVE this. For most kids it’s the hands-on that makes sense and not all the talking.
We did a short demonstration on the beach letting each kid stand on the board and hold the sail. They got to feel the wind and tried dropping and picking up the sail a couple of times. The two absolute most important things is to show them how to use the uphaul and explaining how the sail is like the speeder and dropping it will slow you down. Believe us - it’s really important that they know how to stop because they actually can catch quite some speed out there!
Last it's time to hit the water! We had two instructors, but with kids this age it’s necessary that parents join in so it’s one-on-one. This is to ensure safety but also to make the child feel comfortable and confident out there.
2. Dealing with the attention span
Alright.. We all know this to some extend; Kids in the pre-school or early-school-age has not yet developed the amount of cognitive control to stay focused for very long at a time. All teachers, parents and pedagogues know this. As a windsurf instructor for kids this age, you really need to take this fact into consideration and work with it, not against it. In a group of 5 or 6 kids there’s a good chance they are going to lose attention and be distracted on different points in time. The best advice to give is to simply let them. Let them run off to dig holes in the sand with a paddle and let them jump into the water and splash around for a while. Give them time to run off their restlessness and smile at it. After a while, and if it’s important, you can call them back and re-engage them in whatever you were doing. If that’s too difficult, let them do their own thing - they’ll come back when the rest of the group start doing something that looks exciting.
Keeping calm and letting kids be kids also makes the parents take a step back and let go of the need to correct and reprimand their child along the way.
Really, hosting camps for small water bubbles this age is all about keeping calm in chaos. If you strain keep order, you’ll exhaust yourself and the kids. Trust that the activity itself is SO much FUN that it will keep them interested and engaged!
Apart from this there are of course certain things you can do to make it as easy as possible for yourself and the children. First of all, do not spend too much time talking. Make sure that activities are alternating and shift every 15 minutes. This way there’s a chance no one gets bored but stays focused, hooked and happy! A natural way to deal with the entire “attention-span-issue” is engaging the kids in activities that you might otherwise just do yourself.
It’s really all about keeping calm in chaos and embracing the action.
3. The “I-can-do-it-approach”
There’s a certain developmental tendency for kids this age to test out self-dependency and independence, so they will want to do as many things as possible themselves. For that reason it’s a perfect idea to let the kids help drag, gather, set-up and rig the gear. Show them how to do the small tasks and let them try it out themselves. This is yet another way to make them feel successful even before they hit the water. Recognition is key, so hand out as many high-fives as possible, when they’ve successfully put the fins on or attached the rig to the board! Praise the kids that takes initiative and starts messing around with one thing or another - even though you’ve not yet reached that point in the program! The smile on their faces will let you know, that you’re doing the right thing!
4. Balance instruction and intuitive learning
When it comes to teaching kids this young a relatively complicated sport as windsurfing, it’s definitely a different rule set that applies. Long talks about technique, safety and wind will not resonate with these cute little brains. Instead kids learn more intuitively by watching and imitating, by trying and doing. Furthermore trial-and-error is the best way to move forward when learning a new physical activity - even for us adults. So let the children do their thing on the water, let them experience what happens when they pull the sail too hard, when they fall in the water, when they step back on the board and so on. The most important thing is giving the child LOTS of freedom to feel their way and learn in their own way. The most demotivating and anti-encouraging thing you can do, is to constantly correcting the child and constrain them in their learning. This will give them the feeling that they can only do things wrong and they will quickly lose interest.
Instead, praise, smile and cheer them on - even (or especially) when they fall in the water. That way you ensure they have a positive experience, and that they will feel like champions when they hit the beach. After all this is absolutely crucial, at least if you hope to see them out there again!
5. It’s all about having FUN!
To finish up this suddenly lengthy post, when all comes to all the most important thing to pin-point is that getting into waterspouts should be FUN! It should be a playful and enjoyable experience, that at anytime will be remembered positively and best of all - will leave the upcoming watermen - and women craving for more.
Several parents contacted us after the camps, telling us how Jimmy or Christine would not stop talking about the course. How they kept asking when they would be able to go again, and if the could have a Whipper1 for Christmas. For us, this was the biggest indicator of success whatsoever- and we are still thrilled! We are already cooking up exciting camps for next season - and maybe even under warmer skies this winter!
Thanks for reading. Feel free to contact us anytime if you already want to reserve your spot at next years Micro Waterman Camp, have great ideas yourself or want to function as instructor. We’ll make a deal.