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 fun and even magical experience—especially if he has shown interest in fish, sea turtles, starfish and other marine life.
If snorkeling sounds like something your child would enjoy, the best plan is to teach the basics before you leave home.
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 introduce her to snorkeling equipment. Whether she starts in the bathtub or shallow end of the pool, let her play with the snorkel and mask in the shallow water. If she's familiar with a mask or snorkel and the equipment doesn’t feel like a chore or an assignment, she's much more likely to feel comfortable when she eventually tries it in the ocean.
How to Teach Kids to Snorkel
Time Required: 1 to 2 hours
- 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.
- 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.
- Make sure the face mask fits well. Most kids don't like when water leaks in. Have your child inhale through her nose. This should make the mask stick on her face.
- Be sure to smooth back all stray hair. Water will leak into the face mask via any strands of hair.
- Now, pull the strap of the mask over your child's head and into position. Many kids hate the feel of the rubber strap pull against their hair. Pull the strap in a way that minimizes pulling the hair.
- If your child is frustrated, stop and try another time. Once he is comfortable with the mask, try adding the snorkel.
- 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 she has not mastered breathing through her mouth. It's important to let her practice in shallow water until she feels 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, 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 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 under the chest and armpits, so that your child's energy isn't used up just staying afloat while snorkeling.
- 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. Let your kid try out the snorkel in the hotel pool before moving to the ocean.
- Make sure you're comfortable with your own snorkeling equipment. You'll have to give full attention to your child, as she explores this exciting new world.
- 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 snorkelers.
- 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.
If are buying equipment for your child, you don't need to buy an expensive snorkel set but choose one with a silicone mask skirt instead of a plastic one. Silicone mask skirts fit provide a tighter seal. Be sure to clean the lenses before the first use. There's often a film left on them from production that can fog up.
Great Snorkeling Destinations with Kids
– Edited by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher