Skip The Training Wheels

We've come a long way from water wing

Skuut balance bike    

BIKING Seriously, ixnay on the training wheels. Instead, get your tot a pedal-less balance bike like the wooden Skuut ($100; skuut.com) or the aluminum (and sturdier) Specialized Hot Walk ($175; specialized.com), which help kids figure out how corrective steering and shifting their weight can keep them upright and coasting. When they're ready to roll with the big kids, every children's bike made by Trek is designed to allow size adjustments in key spots like handlebar height and pedal position to accommodate growth spurts (trekbikes.com).

SKIING Those old mini-skis in your garage? Inspect the bindings carefully. "Kids' bindings are years behind adult bindings in terms of how they release," says Robin Bousquet, a physical therapist at California's Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes. If they look like relics, take them to a ski shop for a professional opinion. Another smart tip: place inserts, like Superfeet's trim-to-fit insoles (from $40; superfeet.com), into kids' ski boots to help stabilize ankles and minimize injuries.

SNOWBOARDING Ten years ago, conventional wisdom was that you didn't teach kids to snowboard until they were six or seven, when their fine motor control was sufficiently developed. No longer. Thanks to redesigned pint-size boards like the Burton Super Hero Smalls (from $220; burton.com), which are shorter, softer, and more convex (making it harder to catch an edge), you can now teach them starting as young as four.

PADDLING Because they have more padding around the torso, providing extra warmth and comfort, a Coast Guard– approved Type III vest is your best bet, according to Jeremy Oyen, a former director of safety education and outreach at the American Canoe Association. Type II–style PFDs, those orange, horseshoe-shaped ones with the thick neck flap, are perfectly safe, too. Just be aware that they're more restricting. Junior's ready to paddle? Don't hand over yours. If it's too long or the blade's too big, it can cause shoulder stress.We like Sawyer's red cedar Kids Clearwater Paddle ($160; paddlesandoars.com). And Old Town's Heron Junior Kayak ($299; oldtowncanoe.com) is built to track efficiently with a 50- to 100-pound paddler inside. It also has a built in tether system so you can conveniently drag junior when he gets tired.

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