If you're taking a beach vacation or a family cruise to a tropical destination, introducing a child to the wonderful world under the sea can be a magical experience—especially if he or she has shown interest in fish, sea turtles, starfish, or other marine life.
If snorkeling sounds like something your child would enjoy, the best plan is to teach the basics before you leave home.
Parents don't need to buy an expensive snorkel set but should choose one with a silicone mask skirt instead of a plastic one as the silicone option provide a tighter seal. Be sure to clean the lenses before the first use as there's often a film left on them from production that can fog up. A light coating of toothpaste on the inside and outside lenses that is gently scrubbed away with a brush and rinsed in tap water will do the trick. Additionally, most stores sell anti-fog gel that can be purchased at a low cost and applied right before heading into the water.
Best Age to Start Snorkeling
Typically, age 5 or 6 is a good age to learn the basics of snorkeling. If your child is old enough to feel comfortable in the pool, it's not too early to make an introduction to snorkeling equipment. Teaching an older child will be even easier as they will already be mature enough to follow a series of directions and instructions.
Introduction to Snorkeling Equipment
Whether a child starts in the bathtub or the shallow end of the pool, let them simply play with the snorkel and mask in the water however they like and not immediately begin with the proper technique. If you first familiarize your child with the equipment at home, it will then be a more comfortable learning experience in the pool or ocean.
How to Teach Kids to Snorkel
On average, it should take about 1-2 hours to teach a child how to snorkel. If your child is still taking baths, start your snorkel lessons in the bathtub before your trip. Little kids will love this idea. Slightly older kids can start in the shallow end of a pool.
Be aware that getting used to snorkeling equipment can take time. Start with the face mask without the snorkel. Have your child position just the front of the face mask on his face. Then make sure the face mask fits well as almost every kid hates it like when water leaks in. Have your child inhale through her nose (this should make the mask stick on to the face) and be sure to smooth back all stray hair, which is the main cause of water leakage into the mask.
Next, pull the strap of the mask over your child's head and into position. Many kids despise the feel of the rubber strap pull against their hair so pull the strap far away from their head in a way that minimizes pulling the hair. Of course, if your child is frustrated, stop and try another time. Once they are comfortable with the mask, try adding the snorkel.
Now let your child play with the snorkel and get the hang of breathing through it. The snorkel doesn't need to be threaded through the loop on the face mask. Just tuck it between the face mask and your child's face. When a kid panics while snorkeling, it's usually because they have not mastered breathing through the mouth. It's important to let them practice in shallow water until they feel confident.
Once on vacation, do some snorkel practicing in a pool. Start in the kiddie pool or the shallow end of the big pool. Toss items on the pool's floor and let your child peer at them through the mask. Start by practicing with your child upright and face down in the water before attempting to snorkel while swimming.
When you finally try real-life snorkeling in the sea, find a calm place, such as a protected cove or a lagoon. This lets kids become aware of the presence of sea critters without worrying about swells. Big waves can unnerve a child at first. Bring along water wings, a kickboard, life vest, or pool noodle for under the chest and armpits, so that your child's energy isn't used up just staying afloat while snorkeling.
Coach your child to be aware of their surroundings and not kick other snorkelers in the face. Some kids get so absorbed in what they're seeing that they don't notice other swimmers.
Finally, if it makes your child more comfortable, start by staying connected. Hold hands in the water so your child knows where you are. If you get disconnected, stay very close.
Many family-friendly hotels provide snorkel gear (often for a fee) but not all hotels provide child-size equipment. Teach your child to carefully stay away from coral, which is damaged when it's touched. Also, contact with the coral can scrape or cut your child's hand.