There are very few things my kids love more in life than playing in the water, whether that’s swimming in a pool, splashing in waves on the beach, running through the sprinkler or just hanging out in a bubble bath. My kids love water so much they volunteer to wash the dishes so they can play with the water in the sink. They get super excited about rainstorms because they know they can jump in the puddles. That’s why going “creeking” with the kids is one of our favorite family activities – it combines the kids’ love of water with our love of exploring the outdoors.
There are so many incredible benefits to taking kids creeking. Not only do they get plenty of fresh air and sunshine while creeking, but they get to wade through the cool water, catch minnows, tadpoles and crawdads, hunt for fossils, climb over/around obstacles, skip rocks, build dams, observe wildlife and connect with nature in a very personal way. When kids go creeking, they’re part of nature – they’re surrounded by it, immersed in it, touching it and exploring it in ways that they can’t by standing on the sidelines.
Benefits of creeking
I don’t have any hard scientific data to back me up here (although I’m sure I could find it if I looked), but I’ve seen amazing things happen when kids that have never experienced creeks get to play in one for the first time. We love taking our friends and their kids to creeks in our area (we’re familiar with a lot because we love them so much). I’ve noticed that getting kids in the water in a little creek does something for them that’s hard to explain – it gives them a sense of adventure and independence and freedom. When parents give their kids permission to get wet, dirty and explore on their own, it promotes self-confidence and encourages curiosity and exploration. Shy kids become bolder. Clingy kids become more independent. Kids that don’t like bugs or worms suddenly become more interested in them.
Creeking also helps kids in a multitude of other areas – walking through a creek helps with balancing and stability (rocky creeks are unstable terrain), encourages problem-solving (how to get from one side to the other), teaches about life stages of nature (from tadpole eggs to live bugs to dead fish) and prompts kids to ask questions about nature and the environment that they might not otherwise think of. My 4 year-old asks some of the most amazing questions while we’re creeking, like: Is this a dinosaur tooth? Is this the same kind of water that’s in the river? Do fish eat rocks? Why is the water cold? What kind of fossil is this? Where do frogs go at night? Why does that tree look like that? Is that a crocodile? Where can we find a snake? If so, can we take it home with us?
Exploring creeks with kids is a wonderful activity to do in the summer when everything’s lush and green and thriving. Wading through cold creek water is the perfect way for kids to cool off without having to spend the day at a packed public swimming pool or running up your water bill and flooding your lawn with the sprinkler. Creeking seems to be a thing of the past and not a lot of people are out there exploring them with kids – you’re likely to have an entire stretch of any given creek to yourself. It’s also completely free and can be done with very minimal gear.
Other than sunscreen bug spay and swimsuits, I recommend nets and water shoes for the kids – something to give them some stability and grip, but keep the rocks and sand out (post coming soon on great summer shoes for kids). Polarized sunglasses are helpful for letting kids see underwater, although not necessary. If you want to keep something you find, bring a bucket or a small fish tank. And make sure to bring a change of clothes for the ride home – that way it’s totally ok for the kids to get as wet and dirty as they want.
Locating a creek
Creeking is a great activity for kids of nearly any age (my kids started before they were 2) and can be done almost anywhere in the country…so long as you know where to look. Knowing the location of a good creek is probably the hardest part about creeking and is possibly what prevents most parents from taking their kids. However, there are a number of ways to find local creeks in your area. Here are a few:
- Facebook pages for your area – feel free to ask local moms if they know of any good creeks (mom support groups or even buy/sell/trade groups)
- State parks and conservation areas – almost always guaranteed to have a creek or two, just call or ask at the visitor’s center where you can access one
- Google searches – a lot of times you can find a list on a local blog or website of some creeks to try out
- Google maps – scour the maps of your local parks and neighborhoods for creeks and go check them out
- Explore on your own – some of our favorite creeks are ones that we’ve found entirely by accident while out hiking or geocaching in local parks and conservation areas
Tips for parents
There are also a few things that parents can do to promote and encourage a love for creeking. First, make sure you (at least) act like you’re having fun exploring and discovering new things. If you don’t want to get your feet wet, skip rocks or try to catch minnows, your kids won’t either. They take their cues from you, so get in the water with them and share their experience – touch the crawdad, splash the water, show them cool rocks you find. They’ll pay attention to what you’re interested in, so make it count.
Secondly, keep a close eye on them, but allow them freedom to explore, touch and discover new things on their own. Giving them some independence will encourage them to be brave, explore and push their own boundaries. You’ll still be right there, but allowing them to go a little ahead of you or check areas out first means a lot to a little kid.
Finally, give them permission to get dirty and wet. Bring extra clothes for you kids and yourself and allow them to splash, throw rocks, fall down, stomp in the water, wade through mud, climb embankments, lay in the sand and all the other things that go along with creeking. So long as you’ve got some relatively unmuddy water to rinse them off before stripping them down and thowing them back in the car to head home, it doesn’t matter if they get a little bit dirty or absolutely filthy, so just let it go and let them do what they want…just this once. Believe me, it’ll be something they remember and appreciate.
I hope I’ve encouraged you (even just a little bit) to try to get out and explore a creek this summer. I promise your kids will love it and you won’t regret it. You might even get a bit addicted to creeking like we are and seek out creeks where ever you go!
I’d love to hear about your creeking adventures – Did you go creeking as a kid? Have you ever taken your kids creeking? If so, what do you love most about it? If not, what’s the biggest obstacle or what’s preventing you from creeking?
Leave your answer in the comments.