outings safe and fun. When planning a creek trip for small children who do not yet swim, choose creeks that offer no rapids in the immediate area and minimal current. Also, pick spots that offer shallow water, good for wading. Require that small children wear life vests. If you buy one that sports a character from one of your child’s favorite animated movies, chances are good they will enjoy wearing it. Use common sense and avoid any scare associated with water. One bad experience can turn some children away from enjoying water play for life.
Many kids like to throw and skip rocks. Ozark creeks offer a limitless supply. Though lots of fun, young kids need close supervision for this activity. I’ve seen kids try to throw rocks, but release late and throw the rocks behind them. When it’s rock-throwing time, be at the child’s side to supervise, direct aim and keep all others out of the line of fire—a good 30 feet away in all directions.
Always bring along and use plenty of sunscreen. Today’s sunscreens can protect even the most light-sensitive skin. Though most sunscreens are water resistant, after swimming for 45 minutes or so, apply more. Severe sunburn can leave a kid with a negative impression of time spent outdoors.
Wildlife generally avoids contact with humans. Yet some, like horseflies and deer flies, seek us. We represent a meal. Horseflies and deer flies lay their eggs in moving water and, unfortunately, are common along Missouri’s creeks. When these flies bite, it hurts—enough to ruin a child’s creek trip. To discourage these persistent pests, use insect repellent.
Another way to handle these biting flies takes nerve, but it’s highly effective. When horse or deer flies first land on a person, they are wary and difficult to swat. They often fly off before you can swat them. To counter this defense, let it land and then wait. As soon as the fly shuffles its legs a bit and lowers its head to bite, swat it. At this time the fly is focusing on feeding and is far less wary. Teaching this technique to a nervous kid is sometimes tough, but it works almost every time.
Be Good Stewards
As kids learn to enjoy the outdoors, they also need to learn it is their responsibility to take care of it. Creek outings offer perfect opportunities to do that. At the end of a trip, as you collect gear and load up to go home, have the kids patrol where they played to make sure they left no trash. Join in and help with the patrolling. If you find trash left by others, pick it up and let the kids know that it’s good to leave a place in better shape than how you found it.
Creek trips, done right, develop in children a deep respect and love of the outdoors—a shared interest that offers you and your children a common bond that lasts a lifetime.