Bring the Family

Outdoors gear giant offers family-friendly classes

WHO: James H. Burnett III, reporter

WHERE: World’s End Reservation, Hingham

WHAT: REI Outdoor School


In spite of the fact that we profess to be outdoorsy people, it’s not every day that my wife and I say, “Let’s get up at sunrise, go outside, and break a sweat . . . for fun!”

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That changed when we decided a few weeks ago to check out the REI Outdoor School. Ads and promotional fliers for the school, which teaches everything from cycling and hiking to kayaking, are plastered all over our South Shore community. My wife has been an REI co-op owner since she was a college student. The store’s foul-weather gear has never let us down. Plus friends said the classes were fun — a huge and necessary incentive to convince us that climbing rocks, pedaling like our lives depended on it, and traversing waves might be worth it.

First pick for us? Kayaking. Not a typical choice for families with small children unless you use a tandem kayak that allows both guardians to paddle with the little one in a sort of jump seat. But we love the water and thought after a couple of individual lessons we could move on to that tandem craft.

Several of the half-dozen or so kayak lessons in the REI Outdoor School take place at World’s End, a spectacular waterfront park in Hingham. For REI members, each three-hour basic class runs $70 ($90 for nonmembers), and each six-hour kayak tour class runs $95 ($115 for non-members), and includes a wide-ranging tour of Hingham Harbor, along with stops along the way on several small, undeveloped islands, and even an island picnic/lunch break.

It just so happened, one of my classes was joined by Sally Jewell, REI’s president and chief executive.


“Naturally, I love all the classes we offer. But I really enjoy getting out on the water,” Jewell told me, while checking the straps on my life vest. “Plus, one of the things that bonds families together is getting outdoors and breathing natural air and, for kids, expanding their world from a square meter to a mile and just broader and broader.”

With Jewell and my able instructor, Leigh Jackson-Magennis, keeping a watchful eye over my group, we all had a great paddle. No one drowned. And I didn’t make a fool of myself.

“As your child ages it will be easier to include him in kayaking,” said Jackson-Magennis, an 11-year veteran of outdoors instruction. “It’s such a relaxing activity that provides a great workout as well. But there’s more!”

If kayaking isn’t your thing or your families’, you can take basic hiking tours/classes, starting at $15, bike-riding classes at Boston City Hall Plaza, starting at $65, and paddleboard classes at George Washington State Park in Rhode Island, starting at $70. A complete list of classes and prices can be found at

Next up for the Burnetts will be my wife’s kayak lessons, followed by that tandem kayak outing. Then, I think we see a couple of rugged bicycle rides in our future.


James H. Burnett III can be reached at james Follow him on Twitter @JamesBurnett.