A popular summer activity in East Coast and European parks is remote control (RC) boating. Many large cities (New York and Paris included) rent toy boats by the hour. This service is typically located in large gardens or parks that have a pond. Think Central Park or the Tuileries. This is an easy, inexpensive way to get the kids outside and learning about wind and water currents, with a bit of mechanics and science thrown in for good measure.If your local park doesn’t have a pond, look around for good alternatives such as small rivers and streams, puddles and lakes, or even a neighborhood or friend’s swimming pool. A bathtub is also a great option if your child is still small.
Once you’ve found a place to visit, choose the type of boat you want to use. I’ve found that there is a boat to suit everyone. Search for ‘RC boat’ and you can find them anywhere, from specialty shops to Toys-R-Us or Target. Or make your own boat. There are a lot of variations and easy-to-make options:
Wax paper boat
This is the old standby from when we were little. Take a length of wax paper or tin foil and fold it using the instructions found HERE. Voila! You have a simple boat.
Make a carved boat out of a piece of wood or use a pre-made kit (this can be found at a Boy Scout shop or model/hobby store). You’ll still need a bit of sandpaper and other supplies even if you get the kit. See the official Boy Scouts instructions on building and sailing your boat HERE.
Raft with sail
Use some Popsicle sticks, twigs and twine or long grass to create a simple raft. Once you have the raft completed, insert a stick in the middle, perpendicular to the body of the boat. Attach a piece of construction paper or a large leaf (poke a hole at the top and bottom and thread it onto the stick) and you have a rudimentary sailboat.Milk carton boat
If you’re into recycling or happen to have a paper milk carton handy, try THIS fun boat project. It can also double as a science fair project, so take pictures of the entire process in case you want to use it later.Foil boat
If you need something simple but sturdy, try using a foil mini-loaf pan. You can use some modeling clay to attach a sail. Or fill the pan with paper people (I like to use Candy Land game pieces) to make a ferry. For detailed instructions, click HERE.Nut and leaf boat
One more fun, simple idea for keeping an outdoors theme, or making a boat on the fly while camping or hiking, is to use a large walnut shell and attach a leaf using a stick. Make a lot of them and see which one goes the farthest, fastest, or sinks first. If you don’t have clay, mud works too. Click HERE for instructions.
Candle steam boat
If your child is into science (like mine), THIS is a great project. It teaches you how to make your own steam-powered boat using a candle. It can also double as a science fair project, so remember to take lots of pictures if you want to use it in the future.RC boat
There are plenty of kits available at hobby shops for remote control boats, but it may be easiest, and cheapest, to find one at a local toy store. I have seen them for as little as $15, so don’t get discouraged if the first place you look has them listed at $50 or more. If you have multiple children and a big enough budget, get a couple of boats and try racing them.RC Racing is actually a sport and there are clubs all over the country where enthusiasts get together to race their boats. Of course, since these clubs are made up of mostly adults, their boats are typically over $1,000 and go much faster than a toy you’ll find at Target. But it could be a fun field trip if you’re interested in watching. You can find your local club, race times and locations online.
If your children are older, try renting a canoe or kayak to use in a nearby pond or lake. Remember to wear a lifejacket at all times, even if you are a strong swimmer. Safety First!
If your children are younger, make one of the simpler boats listed above and then use your imagination to pretend that you’re sailing. What animals do you see when you’re on the water? Where are you going? How long will it take you to get there? What will you do when you get there? This is a great activity for bath time or you can use a small wading pool if you want to play with the boats outside.
If you happen to have a large cardboard box, you can turn it into a boat by turning it on the long side, opening the top and adding a sail. Pretend to be sailors or pirates together.
Talk to your child about the concept of floating. Ask her questions: How does the boat stay on top of the water? How much weight can it support before it sinks? Some fun sites that explore these questions and explain the answers can be found HERE at Science Buddies and HERE at How Stuff Works.
Does your child ask how parts of the boat work? You can help answer his questions using one of the books listed below, or by surfing the internet together. Talk with him about the different types of boats: canoes, sailboats, rowboats, pontoons, house boats, paddle boats, ferries, etc, and where each gets the energy it needs to move across the water.
In order to keep your boat (real or imaginary) at the dock when you’re not using it, you’ll want to learn a few standard boating knots. Try your hand at a few by going to THIS SITE.
There is so much more you can do with boats. Ride a real boat or ferry, visit a harbor or yacht club, or make a model boat to put on your shelf. Use your imagination and what works best for your family and have fun exploring nature through a new medium.
- Busy Boats, Tony Mitton (P Mitton; ISBN: 978-0753459167)
- Sail Away, Little Boat, Janet Buell (P Buell, ISBN: 978-1575058214)
- Toy Boat, Randall de Seve (P de Seve, ISBN: 978-0399243745)
- How Boat Things Work: An Illustrated Guide, Charlie Wing (ISBN: 978-0071493444)
- Science Fun with Toy Boats and Planes, Rose Wyler (ISBN: 978-0671624538)
- Things That Go! How to Make Toy Boats, Cars, and Planes, Judith Conaway (ISBN: 978-0816709397)
- The Pop-Up Book of Boats, Albert G. Miller (ISBN: 978-0394824260)
- The Boats on the River, Marjorie Fleck (P Flack, ISBN: 978-0670839186)
623.82 is the call number for this subject.