Are you looking for ways to get your kids involved at your rental cottage while teaching them valuable life skills? Whether you’re spending a week or an extended summer break in cottage country, why not turn your family vacation into an educational adventure? This guide explores five essential cottage skills to teach your kids and some bonus skills to enrich their outdoor experience.

Essential Cottage Skills

1. Tying a Boat to the Dock

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For many families, cottage vacations involve fun activities on the water. If you have your boater’s license, your family vacation may also include the rental or use of a boat! Teaching your kids how to tie a boat to the dock is a practical and important safety measure. Here’s how to approach it:

  • Start with the basics: Show them how to tie a secure knot, like the cleat hitch, and explain its importance in keeping the boat safely moored.
  • Practice, practice, practice: Let them try it under your supervision until they can confidently tie and untie the boat. Proficiency matters!

Never tied a boat to the dock before? Let’s explore how to do that now.

Boats come equipped with two ropes secured for tying the boat to a dock, with one rope kept at the bow (front of the boat) and the other secured at the stern (rear). These ropes are called dock lines, but we’ll refer to them simply as ropes.

Boats also have dock bumpers that you need to secure on the side of the boat you will dock. These bumpers, often made of rubber, protect the boat from getting scratched or dented when docked. Remember to put dock bumpers on before approaching the dock for best results.

At the end of your boating trip, the captain (more than likely Dad, but many moms have their boater licenses, too!), will steer the boat slowly in the direction of the dock. Pulling up to the dock is called ‘docking’ your boat.

If everyone in your family came along for the boat ride, you will need someone responsible to jump from the boat and onto the dock so they can be thrown the ropes. This could be Mom or one of the older kids. Once they are ashore, have been thrown both ropes and caught, they need to pull the boat towards them so that it is docked as closely as possible to allow passengers to get off the boat safely.

Before everyone gets off, the boat must be tied to the dock using the cleats found along the edge of the dock. If someone is waiting on shore to help you dock, they will follow the same steps for tying the boat to the dock.

2. Getting Water from the Lake for the Toilet

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Some cottages may not have running water, which provides an excellent opportunity to teach kids self-sufficiency and conservation. Conversely, you might find yourself in a situation where you’re waiting for the plumber to arrive! Regardless of why you do not have access to running water, here’s how to keep your toilets operational while at the lake:

  • Explain the process: Show them how to safely collect water from the lake using a bucket or a container.
  • Emphasize hygiene: Teach them the importance of washing hands after handling lake water and how to use water to flush the toilet efficiently.

Our water was not turned on at the cottage one winter while we were there for March Break. We needed to think fast as nature does not cease to call when you have no flowing water! In addition to getting a safe supply of spring water from the grocery store for drinking, brushing our teeth, cooking, and doing the dishes, we needed to go down to the lake to draw water to keep our toilets running.

This is not a chore for younger children as buckets of water are heavy, and you don’t want your child to fall into the water or spill all the water as they come into the cottage. If you want to involve young children in the process, you can ask them to come to the water’s edge and wait for you to draw water. If they’re old enough, they could even carry the water pail to the lake and watch as they complete the task.

Older children and teenagers will find this skill of particular interest as no one likes a smelly toilet that hasn’t been flushed! Limit this chore to daylight hours and have your older kids tell you when they are going down to the lake to draw water so you can keep an eye on them.

Once the water has been retrieved from the lake for the toilet, lift the top off the tank and slowly pour enough water into the tank to ensure you get in a good flush. Repeat the process as needed.

If you are staying at a cottage rental that does not have running water, you may be relieved to find an outhouse and can happily skip drawing water for the loo.

3. Stacking Firewood

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Managing a cottage often involves keeping warm during chilly evenings. While chopping firewood might be too advanced for young children, stacking is a skill they can acquire:

  • Safety first: Stress the importance of proper lifting techniques and handling firewood without injuring themselves. Younger children should carry kindling; older children can handle a small log or two at a time.
  • Organize and store: Teach them how to neatly stack firewood to keep it dry and readily available for future fires.

A rule at our cottage is that no one comes back into the house empty-handed. Whenever someone goes outside, they always bring in a log or two for the fireplace. Bringing logs from the woodshed can also be a great way to get extra cardio and weight training.

4. Fire Safety

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When you think of nights at the cottage, you often think of campfires and s’mores! While campfires are synonymous with cottage life, safety should always come first. Before gathering the family to roast marshmallows, make sure you follow the necessary steps for fire safety:

  • Building and maintaining a campfire: Demonstrate how to create a safe campfire ring, light it responsibly, and control the flames.
  • Fire safety rules: Instill the importance of keeping a safe distance from the fire, never leaving it unattended, and having a bucket of water or sand nearby for emergencies.
  • If you can access one, a fire blanket from companies like Prepared Hero could put out smaller fires in the kitchen and other cottage areas.

5. Boat Safety

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Cottage vacations often involve water activities, so boat safety is paramount:

  • Life jackets: Ensure kids wear properly fitting life jackets on boats.
  • Rules of the water: Teach them about the dangers of currents, how to use life-saving equipment, and the importance of responsible boating behavior.

Being out on the water is wonderful, but only if you play it safe. Ensure you have a life jacket on board for all passengers and have your children wear their life jackets at all times.

If you are tubing, water skiing, swimming or snorkeling, life jackets must stay on to keep your little (and not so little) athletes safe. Likewise, if you stop your boat or put the anchor down so people can swim, you must turn the engine off. Boats with an outboard motor can be very dangerous if the motor is left on and someone is in the water nearby. Never have your engine on when someone is behind the motor in the water.

Bonus Skills:

To make the most of your cottage experience, consider teaching these additional skills:

  • Navigation: Introduce basic navigation skills like reading maps and using compasses or GPS devices.
  • Hiking and Outdoor Skills: Teach them to pack a daypack with essentials and to identify local plants and wildlife.
  • Cooking and Food Handling: Emphasize basic cooking skills and food safety, especially campfire cooking.
  • Water Safety: If there’s water nearby, ensure they know how to swim and understand water safety rules.
  • First Aid and Emergency Response: Teach basic first-aid skills and how to contact emergency services.
  • Wildlife Awareness: Educate them about local wildlife and respecting nature.
  • Campsite Maintenance: Show them how to set up and take down a campsite, emphasizing responsible camping practices.
  • Weather Awareness: Teach them to pay attention to weather conditions and be prepared for changes.
  • Basic Survival Skills: Depending on their age, introduce basic survival skills.
  • Respect for Nature: Instill a sense of responsibility for the environment by teaching Leave No Trace principles.
  • Communication: Ensure they know how to use communication devices and establish a communication plan.

Remember to adapt the complexity of these skills to your child’s age and experience level. Provide supervision and guidance until they have mastered the skills and can do these activities independently (or with direct supervision as the case may be). 

Cottage vacations offer an excellent opportunity for kids to learn and develop valuable life skills while enjoying the great outdoors.

What cottage skills have you taught your kids? Comment below to share!

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