The way to have fun with water and kids is to get some kids and get some water and put them into close proximity with each other and then get out of the way. In other words, kids know how to have fun with water. They just do. They don’t need you.
When you say “Water Fun With Kids” you really mean water fun for you that can include kids. Some of this water fun will be associated more with the adult world (canoeing), some with the kid world (super soakers). But admit it—the kids are just cover. You’re the one you hope will have fun.
Now, let’s make a Fun List and check it twice—perfect for water ‘n’ kids, rotten or nice. (Referring, of course, to the weather.)
1. Canoeing. Pick a meandering stream, the Bitterroot preferably, mid- to late-summer, something with no whitewater and no snags or log jams, and steer clear of fallen trees by the banks. (A floating child could get stuck on a log, and even meandering water is stronger than you.)
Worries dealt with, put the car seat of your child (age two or older) in the very front of the canoe, with you directly behind, another adult paddling. Your child will think you are all in the car, and will stop complaining about the life jacket and adopt a glassy-eyed stare and eventually fall asleep, allowing you to fish. Don’t, of course, buckle the car seat. You can, though, attach to the back of it an open umbrella, brilliantly-hued, for a Winslow Homer-ish effect. Older children can bob along behind the canoe in their life jackets, watching the big suckers suck the river floor. I don’t like little rafts or inner tubes attached with ropes to the canoes for the purposes of bobbing-along. (Ropes around necks. Sorry, I’m a worrier.)
2. Super Soakers. Let’s cut to the plastic-related fun, now, we’ll get back to nature if there’s space.
First of all, worry somewhat about arming toddlers with replicas of whatever it is they’re all using on the streets of Beirut, even if these, the replicas, are pink. There, that’s done, now go buy some massive super soakers, preferably the kind that have multi-directional barrels and reserve water packs to be strapped to the back. Or, if qualms persist, buy little crayola-colored animals that dribble water from their mouths. Or, for a wry, postmodern spin, buy a parody of a water pistol, i.e. a water gun that is, in fact, a plastic hand, in mock shooting position. Whatever, just get armed.
Then (this is perfect for a birthday party, providing the day is hot and the children are hardy and the yellowjackets aren’t yet out) distribute several big cookie sheets of Jell-O to designated “teams,” or “gangs,” or “armies,” or “alternatives to violence (AV) swat units,” I don’t care. Then encourage the children to, in a friendly manner, slime each other. It’s good to make different colors of Jell-O—one for each team, gang, army or unit. That way, it can become evident who is winning. When all has reached a jolly pitch (or is threatening to topple over into full anarchy and earnest aggression), pass out the super soakers and encourage the children to hose each other down while screaming maniacally.
Now it’s your turn, I would say, but, unfortunately, I have found that what is innocently therapeutic and genuinely gleeful with children all too often becomes, with adults, coarse, out-of-hand, and vengeful. In short: inappropriate. So you’ll have to enjoy this vicariously.
3. Back to Nature. But first, let’s consider plastic-free urban water fun. Beyond the obvious venues—swimming pools, wading pools, sprinklers—there are ditches and rope swings, both fun and both unsafe in the extreme. While the irrigation ditch in my neighborhood has a whole cult revolving around it (with ditch-cleaning, ditch discussions, and offerings to the ditch gods) it is a nightmare for anyone with small children. That’s all I’ll say, since this is about water fun, not city planning.
Rope swings. There used to be one down on that side-channel of the Clark Fork near the foot bridge. Vagrants and tattooed toughs and matrons from Boston (my sister-in-law) would all go off the rope swing. It was to the “Montana outdoors” what graffiti is to landscape painting. It’s gone now, but to remember the thrill you can go off a rope swing up at Placid Lake, near the public campground at the far (north? west?) end of the lake. You have to climb a big, slippery tree to use it. This is scarier for adults than for kids. Kids seem to know how to swing off rope swings without becoming entangled. But if it still feels worrisome, just make use of the dock there, at the campground, for sunning and swimming. The only other people mid-week in August will be a mellow couple in their 20s who live in the lower Rattlesnake and are snorkeling for trash, which they plan to take home and recycle. They’ll let your kids use their air mattresses and share with them their high-fiber treats.
. Now ... Back to Nature. Whoops. Out of space. Oh well—you can find out about every possible permutation of natural water fun for children in these parts by reading the innumerable publications put out by innumerable organizations listed in all the logical places.