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Introduction to Canoes and Kayaks (JHARVNC)

Participants will be instructed in safety as well as basic techniques of paddling canoes/kayaks. Participants will practice their paddling on a short excursion on Wells Lake.
Grade Level4 - 12
Recommended SettingWells Lake
LocationJanet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, Fort Smith
Education Program Coordinator, 479-452-3993
Duration45 minutes
Suggested Number of Participants25 - 30
Special Conditions
Teachers must provide extra adult supervision
  • Identify the supplies and equipment needed for a paddling expedition
  • Identify potential hazards that could be encountered on a paddling trip
  • Practice basic canoe strokes
  • Acquire experience and confidence in a potentially lifelong outdoor pastime
Key Terms*






Life jackets

Mesh trash bags


Canoeing and kayaking are popular pastimes for many naturalists. One can enjoy scenic streams and waterways at leisure and observe wildlife inhabitants in their natural surroundings. Likewise, adventure paddlers and other sportsmen find satisfaction via canoe or kayak outings. Arkansas is fortunate to have so many paddling destinations.

  1. Begin the session by referring to the benefits of paddling, and then discuss the steps in planning a float trip (proper equipment and supplies, preparing a float plan, outfitting the canoe, etc.). 
  2. Demonstrate how to hold the paddle and how to perform the forward, back, pry and draw strokes.  Describe the movement accomplished by each. Demonstrate the differences between the canoe and kayak paddles and proper paddling techniques.
  3. Indicate the bow and the stern of the vessel, and mention that the bow leads downstream. Explain that the person at the stern primarily steers, and the partner in front supplies much of the power and serves as the lookout. Paddlers should pair up with someone of similar mass. If the mass difference is considerable, the heavier person should sit at the stern.
  4. After unloading the vessels, explain how participants are to portage them to the water, make sure everyone is outfitted with a paddle and a properly fitted life jacket.  Make sure participants understand that they must be wearing a correctly secured life jacket at all times.
  • List the supplies and equipment needed for a paddling expedition.
  • Describe the potential hazards possible on a paddling expedition and explain ways to avoid them.
  • Demonstrate how to hold a paddle for forward, back, pry and draw strokes.

Stern – the rear of a boat


Portage – carrying boats or goods overland from one body of water to another


Bow (boat) – the forward part of a boat or ship