Bestow upon youth your wisdom! Or at least a few standard cottage skills. This gives your offspring independence, and it gives you a break (fewer chores). Teach your kids how to:
Build a fire
“I don’t think there are any skills that are too outlandish for kids to learn,” says David Masters of Luna Adventures outfitters. Building a fire is especially kid-propriate because there’s a payoff come nightfall: s’mores! Spider dogs! Acoustic guitar! Kids of all ages can help with this multi-step task by gathering kindling and balling up newspaper. They only need arms and the ability to walk. Teaching proper fire-building is also a chance to impart know-how—use dry logs with crisp bark; don’t burn garbage—and proper fire safety. As Masters points out, “It’s not just, ‘Here’s your Zippo lighter, go for it.’ ”
Paddle a canoe
Paddle Canada instructor Becky Mason was canoeing solo by age five or six. Dad Bill taught her by attaching a long line to the boat and letting her play around while safely connected to the dock. Kids don’t even need a paddle; have them propel their craft with their hands or a bailer. You want your kids to get comfortable on the water. “There are lots of things you can do in a canoe,” says Mason, who regularly plays Scrabble in hers. Combining canoeing and board games? Can’t get more cottagey than that! (BTW, you can buy replacement Scrabble tiles through hasbrotoyshop.com.)
Maintain the boat
Don’t dump the knowledge on them all at once. “You take a 12-year-old and say ‘Today, you’re going to learn about outboards,’ and they’ll just stare at you,” says Brendan Keys, a cottager, the father of three, and the general manager at GA Checkpoint, a motorsport and marine dealer in Vancouver. But do involve them with maintenance right from the beginning, bit by bit: have them check the oil level, read the fuel gauge, or, heck, even squeeze the primer bulb. Everything counts. The point, says Keys, is to teach kids that, “if you want to play, you need to be involved in the maintenance. Or else it’s ‘Oh, that’s somebody else’s job.’ ”
Read a map, for crying out loud
Who taught the ancient geographer Ptolemy to make maps? Probably his parents. At the cottage. To school Luna Adventures’ seven- and eight-year-olds in the art of navigation and map-reading, David Masters first takes them on a tour of the property and then has them draw a diagram of their surroundings. “They learn to pay attention to the landscape and trust their instincts.” These skills will be incredibly handy when your GPS fails—or goes rogue in the robot apocalypse that the Terminator franchise keeps warning us about.
Bait a hook
When you’re fishing with soft bait, you can’t get around the ick factor. And then there’s that hook. Maybe Junior’s not ready to thread a wriggling critter onto a sharp instrument (or even cut the bait into bits beforehand—a smart strategy for baiting small hooks for small fish). You can at least pull out the rubber boots and the flashlight and teach him or her Worm-Finding 101. Go at night, after it rains, and look in soft, rich soil.