Teaching Kids to Snorkel
Planning a beach vacation is always fun for our family. We enjoy all of the activities the beach has to offer, and the excitement of the unknown. Looking back at our first fun family vacation, we had to take turns snorkeling because our kids were not yet comfortable in the ocean. After that trip, we were determined to enjoy snorkeling outings as a family and show our boys the joys of snorkeling.
From an early age our boys have been interested in swimming, but like many kids were unsure of their abilities in the water. Breaking through that barrier can be difficult especially if there was a traumatic introduction to water for your kids. Teaching Kids to Snorkel is more than just throwing on a mask and fins and jumping in the water; they need to know how to comfortably wear the equipment and learn proper snorkel safety. Having the proper equipment, understanding water safety, and picking the right location for their ability, has been the bases for our kids great snorkeling experiences.
Picking the Proper Snorkel Equipment
Becoming comfortable with the equipment is probably the single most important tool in minimizing the “freak-out factor” while teaching your kids to snorkel. From the inhalation of a big gulp of sea water to blisters from your flippers, understanding how to use your equipment is key.
Basic Snorkeling equipment for kids includes a mask, snorkel, and fins that can be purchased individually or in a snorkeling equipment package. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on your gear, (after all they will grow out of it quickly), but you also don’t want to purchase the cheapest gear. Tip: Most junior snorkel gear sets are sized by shoe size.
Masks are unique in that everyone has a different size and shape of their head, nose, and face. You want to find a mask that seals firmly and is comfortable for your child to wear. When you place the mask on your child’s face, the silicone seal should touch all around their face at the same time with no gaps. Some mask features include:
- Tempered glass lenses, with good front and side visibility
- Soft, double, 100% silicone seal that covers their face
- Low profile to minimize clearing ability
- Head strap with easy to use adjustments
Snorkel – should be sized appropriately to your child’s size and include:
- Purge valve – a one way valve or flap that lets the user purge excess water out of the snorkel effortlessly during normal use.
- Swivel strap/clip is a great comfort addition for small kids as it prevents the snorkel from binding up and allows for easy adjustments and removal.
- Removable 100% silicone mouthpiece, makes fitting a snorkel to even our youngest child and jaw fatigue non issues.
- Dry snorkel or splash guard helps prevent water from entering the top of the snorkel
- Ultra flexible bend at the bottom for comfort, and stay with a standard size for easy clearing.
Flippers – Look for flexibility and comfort.
- Quick release straps with easy to use adjustment
- Ability to use with water socks/booties
- Bright color easy to spot
- Make sure the fins are flexible – rigid fins are difficult for kids to swim in
We started off with a US Divers Junior Sets sized SM 9-13 for our youngest and a MED 1-4 for our oldest. When we purchased the sets, they were at the smallest shoe size of the fins, so they are still using their original fins. However, we have since purchased new masks and snorkels as they have grown out of their original gear.
TIP: Our family always brings our own snorkeling equipment on our vacations, and typically has a spare of each piece. Equipment that is available to borrow or rent is either of average quality, has been used so many times that it’s cracked or leaking, and does not fit to your specific body features. As an experienced snorkeler and scuba diver, poor fitting or lower quality equipment can hamper and ruin a snorkeling trip.
Wearing and using your snorkeling equipment in a relatively safe environment like a pool is a great way to become familiar with all the ins and outs.
- Let them try the gear on at home and practice putting it on and taking it off.
- Help them with their mask and check the seal. Make sure all of their hair is pulled back before tightening the mask as hair stuck under the mask’s seal can create a leak.
- Take your equipment to a local pool and let your kids practice using it. Our kids played with their masks, looking down in the water, for quite some time before adding the snorkel. We threw toys and fun items in the pool for them to “find” in a hide and seek snorkel game.
- Let them practice breathing through the snorkel out of the water before they try to use it in the water.
- Let them practice at their own pace and stop if they get frustrated.
- When you introduce them to snorkeling in the ocean for the first time, make sure you are in relatively calm water.
- Give them an underwater camera and let them take pictures! This was one of the best ways we kept our kids faces in the water. They were focused on taking pictures of the sea life below (and each other), and forgot all about being nervous!
Our family follows a simple list of safety rules when snorkeling:
- Never take off equipment while out in the ocean.
- One adult per child.
- Know how to use a whistle and understand basic hand signals. The snorkels we purchased have a whistle on the mouthpiece. Our kids have trouble making the “ok” symbol with hands so we use the “thumbs up” to signal everyone is ok. When they are tired we use an “I’m done” signal, sliding the hand across the neck.
- Stopping when tired. Whenever one person gives the “I’m done” signal, we all leave the water.
- Always wear bright colored life vests or snorkeling vests.
- Take only pictures. Never take any objects out of the ocean or touch the endangered reef. Leave them for the next snorkeler to enjoy!
Additional Snorkeling Items
Wet Suit – or shorty suit can be a great addition to your kids snorkeling gear and can add a level of comfort to any snorkeling trip. Both of our sons have low body fat and are very fit and active in sports. At a young age we noticed that they would get cold quickly and their lips would turn blue (even at the pool). Although we typically travel to warm destinations, with water temps in the 80 deg range, we found that extended time in the water left them shivering cold. The wet suit has been a great comfort item for them for several reasons. Their wet suit helps them snorkel for extended periods of time in the water. A wet suit also provides a layer of protection from reefs, coral, and pests like the occasional jelly fish sting. Gone are the days when our boys would get sun burned from swimming all day, because the suit protects those otherwise exposed areas from the sun. Their wet suits have provided a certain level of coolness, security, and comfort to our snorkeling trips. When they are not wearing their wet suits, they typically have a long sleeve swim shirt that can provide some of the same results.
Swim Vests – or life vests are a must have for young snorkelers. Although a vest limits the snorkeler from diving under the water, they are perfect for a new or inexperienced snorkeler. They provide security and flotation to a snorkeler so that they can work on their snorkeling technique. The next step up is the snorkeling safety vest; it allows the snorkeler to purge the air out of the vest for diving down. The transition from a swim vest to a diving vest is best practiced in the pool or area where you can touch the bottom. Although my kids enjoy diving down, most of their time is spent with a vest on. A great addition to these vests is a tether that allows our family to stay together as a group during snorkeling trips
Tropical Fish Guide – We purchased a tropical fish guide to help the kids learn about the fish they see in the ocean. This has been a great way to keep them interested in snorkeling and learning about the ocean and the environment.
Fishwatchers Field Guide: Fishes of Tropical Atlantic & Caribbean ID Card
Neoprene Strap tamer – aids in taking mask on/off. Tangled hair is something that periodically ends in a “snorkeling melt down” so we often use a Neoprene strap. This makes putting on and taking off the mask easier, and it floats in the water if the mask happens to come off.
Additional equipment for kids and family snorkeling trips include:
- Sun screen – Waterproof, SPF 50 -100
- Swimmers ear drops, lens defogger
- Selfie pole – Easy telescoping feature with arm or wrist lanyard
- Underwater Camera – photos and video (Go Pro or even a Disposable waterproof camera)
- Beach hats – Great as a sun block especially when hiking to that secret snorkeling spot.
- First aid kit – Must have for a family snorkeling trip.
- Beach tent – Provides great home base and shade on the beach. Check out our review of the Genji Beach Tent Here.
- Dive Flag or dive buoy (Many destinations require divers and snorkelers to use buoys and flags to alert boats of divers/snorkelers nearby).
- Dive bag – Great for organizing your snorkeling equipment and hauling to the beach.
Since our kids have become more comfortable snorkeling we have been able to experience some amazing snorkels together. One of the best was our family dive/snorkel with Animal Encounters inside of the Curacao Sea Aquarium. Had our kids not been comfortable swimming and snorkeling, we would have never been able to enjoy such an amazing day together.
Do your kids snorkel? Do you have additional tips or suggestions or questions about teaching kids to snorkel? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
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