Snorkeling is one of the most amazing experiences you’ll ever have! Children as young as two can enjoy viewing the gorgeous corals and colorful fish while floating above the surface. So if your child enjoys the water or you’re simply thinking of trying a new skill, consider introducing them to snorkeling! Children learn best through visual and physical touch, so what better way to bring your ocean books to life than through real life experiences. Here are our top tips to help you get your kids ready to snorkel with Nemo and his friends!
GET YOUR CHILD COMFORTABLE IN THE WATER
Before your vacation try to have them swim as often as possible. This will improve their swimming skills and comfort levels in the water. Exposure is key. Although it's important to teach your children to be strong swimmers it's not a requirement for snorkeling. When our children were little we brought a boogie board out with us for them to lay on and look down into the water with their masks. Some children may prefer lifejackets, kick boards or noodles and that's perfectly O.K.! The more comfortable they are in the water, the calmer they’ll be. Use the extra time we all have right now in lockdown to get your child comfortable in the water. Make water fun! Practice letting them put their face under water in the bathtub or practice swimming on the carpet or in your pool.
*tip: tie long hair back with braids to reduce hair twisting into knots while swimming.
BUY QUALITY SNORKEL GEAR
Quality really makes a difference! Sadly most children’s snorkel sets are cheap and don’t work well. Hey I get it, kids grow quickly and you may be wondering if it's worth the investment. It absolutely is worth it! If they are fidgeting with an uncomfortable mask or their air tube doesn’t clear well, they will be miserable and so will you. But when their mask is clear of fog they will be enchanted by the magical fish below them, relaxed because they can see clearly. And you’ll feel like you're on vacation too when you can enjoy yourself!
When buying a mask look for flexible soft silicone that fits around the face (not plastic), tempered glass windows and easy to adjust buckles. We love Cressi gear and have found Cressi adult masks fit around 8 years old and up. Smaller masks will usually fit between 3-8 year olds.
*tip: Buy a neoprene cover for your child’s snorkel mask. It slides the mask right on/off (super easy) and reduces hair pulling.
We recommend dry snorkels for kids. Make sure to buy a children’s size snorkel because it will have a smaller mouthpiece and shorter tube to accommodate their smaller lung capacities. The dry snorkels are equipped with a bobber inside the tube that will automatically close when you go underwater so children don’t have to worry about clearing their tube as much. Yes, they also make this amazing type of snorkel for adults.
PRACTICE PUTTING ON THEIR GEAR
Trust me nothing is worse than when you get to a picturesque beach and watch a sea turtle swim right past you while you're struggling on the beach trying to help your child get on their gear for what feels like forever. Believe me, I’ve been there. Practice having your children put their snorkel gear on by themselves. Get them excited about their gear and what they might be able to see! This will take some practice, especially in the beginning when you are sizing the mask.
To check the fit, see if the mask creates a suction without straps, then tighten the straps. It doesn’t need to be that tight if you have a proper seal. Then have your child walk around while breathing through the snorkel, play a pretend game that you're underwater Aquanaut explorers! Remind them to not bite on the mouthpiece but to keep their mouth relaxed and loose.
Younger children may not want to wear fins which is ok, but older kids will find that they love how fast they can go with them. Make sure your child is sitting down while strapping fins on and then walk carefully to the water.
*tip: brush all of your child's hair back before putting on the mask. If any long hairs are between their face and the mask it can prevent a water tight seal and the mask may leak.
PRACTICE PUTTING THEIR FACE UNDERWATER
Place a toy on the steps of a pool or at the bottom of the bathtub. Have your child reach for the toy, first with the mask off. Then have them wear the mask and practice looking at the toy. Remind them to not breathe through their nose because it will cause the mask to fog up. Ask them if they can see the toy better with the mask on? Isn’t that cool! Then have your child sit on the steps and have him put his face underwater while using the mask and snorkel. Having a toy to look at while practicing will help take the focus off the snorkel and onto the object, allowing your child to relax. If they get frustrated, take a break. This should be a fun experience and not forced. You may have to experiment a little with the fit to get it right. It's also fun to create a couple hand signs to use in the water to help you communicate with each other.
*tip: Use reef-friendly anti-fog for your mask, diluted baby shampoo (my favorite) or spit into the mask (kids will love that one) beforehand to help keep your mask clear.
TEACH THEM TO CLEAR THEIR MASK & SNORKEL
For younger children, you can simply have them tilt the bottom of their mask out to let the water out. Keeping in mind that they shouldn’t take the mask off. For older children, you can teach them to take one hand and place pressure on the top of the mask. Then blow hard through their nose creating air bubbles that will push the water out.
To clear a snorkel, smaller children can learn to take the mouthpiece out and dump the water out. Ideally, for any aged kid, try to teach them to blow the water out through the purge valve. This is done by blowing firmly and quickly through the bottom. Make a game and see if you can blow like a dolphin! Older children might also enjoy learning to clear their ears so that they can dive deeper. Simply pinch your nose and blow which should relieve the pressure. If that doesn't work you can also have them try wiggling their jaw or tilting their head to one side.
TEACH THEM TO SWIM CALMLY
Kids and calm may not be the first two words you put together. But swimming gently is a skill they can learn! You can start your morning with calm breaths, to teach them to calm themselves. When you practice swimming, tell them to kick firmly but slowly under the water. You don’t want to scare Nemo when you swim out to see him! Make a game out of it, see who can splash the least swimming from one corner of the pool to the other. Practice gliding while keeping their face in the water and their bodies floating length wise like a boat at the top.
*tip: have your child practice long smooth kicks from the hip while in the water, instead of bicycle kicks from the knee.
SNORKEL A CALM OCEAN COVE FIRST
While on vacation have your child practice again in the pool. Then find a protected cove or lagoon with calm waters to try it out in the ocean. Typically calm water will have better visibility and the currents should be easier to swim. It can also help to check the surf report online to gage the swells or ask hotel staff where the best beginner coves are in the area.
*tip: If you have fins, the easiest way to enter the water is to walk backward.
TEACH THEM TO BE AWARE OF THEIR SURROUNDINGS
Teach them to watch out for other snorkelers and to be aware of whether their fins are close enough to hit someone. Instruct them to never touch or stand on the coral. It takes hundreds of years for a little coral to grow and they break very easily! It's also a good idea to teach them to not touch anything as there can be spiny sea urchins or eels that could lead to adverse interactions. Lastly, remind them to look up above the surface every so often to see where they are in relation to the beach. For the most part, you’ll be the eyes and ears in the water, but it’s a good habit for them to practice. It's very easy to drift off course when you’re dazzled by what's below you.
The ocean is a wondrous playground for children and their families to explore together. It’s such a magical experience to be able to view this world of corals, fish, sea turtles and maybe a dolphin through snorkeling. We hope these tips will enhance your next vacation (or backyard fun) and build a deeper aloha (love) for our oceans.
Aloha and happy travels,