January 20, 2011

Tips for Teaching Kids to Snorkel

One of my family’s favorite activities is snorkeling, and it’s not uncommon for us to spend several full days in the water when on vacation. My kids started snorkeling when they were very young, so I’d like to share a few tips from our experience.

Don’t forget the sunscreen! Nothing ruins a vacation faster than a nasty sunburn on the back of the legs, back, and shoulders because you didn’t use high SPF, waterproof sunscreen in those exposed locations.

Buy an inexpensive set of snorkel gear before your trip. Have the kids practice using the mask and snorkel in the bathtub or a swimming pool. You can also practice in the hotel pool before heading into the ocean. The first skill they need to master is breathing calmly through the mouthpiece while floating face down.

Pick calm water for your first outing, preferably a lagoon or protected bay. Waves can be intimidating, especially if your child is not a strong swimmer. (For extra safety, have your child wear a life vest, it does not interfere with snorkeling.) Ask a local dive shop for advice. The “best snorkeling spots” in a guidebook aren’t necessarily the easiest. And while you want to see some fish or coral in order to get your child excited, at this point you don’t need anything more exotic.

Make a game of it. In a pool or calm shallow area, make a path for them to follow out of rocks, bright toys that won’t float away, or shells. Encourage them to follow the path to the “treasure” without raising their head from the water. If your child is ready to try diving in snorkel gear, put rocks or pennies on the bottom of a pool for them to retrieve.

Book a guided snorkel tour later rather than earlier in your trip, after your child has time to practice and become comfortable with their gear. This is where having your own set really pays off, as you will save time having to re-adjust new gear for them, and you won’t have meltdowns because the tour company’s gear “feels funny.” (Parents of sensitive kids know what I am talking about. My 13 yr old STILL only tolerates one particular brand of socks.)

Don’t book an open water excursion. It’s can be intimidating even for an adult to jump off a boat and have to tread water while adjusting their mask. And as we learned on our trip to Puerto Rico this summer, it’s even more difficult to get in & out of a kayak in open water! Find a boat trip that lets you off on a beach or anchors in shallow water. If you have any doubts, call the tour company to get more information. Also ask if they have a snorkel raft/kickboard with a window as a backup plan in case your child gets fearful using the mask.
Buy a disposable water camera (I've found inexpensive ones at Wal-Mart). Though my daughter has years of experience snorkeling, at times we have been in situations which frightened her, such as a sudden downpour during our aforementioned kayak trip. But when I pointed out fish or pretty coral formations, she became so engrossed in taking pictures she completely forgot her fears. In fact, she pushed me out of the way to get a better shot!
Stay in touch, literally. While snorkeling, it’s hard to see people directly in front or behind. My daughter and I hold hands so we can both relax knowing that we won't get separated. And nothing is sweeter than holding hands with my little girl as we float silently through a water wonderland.

For help with planning the perfect vacation for your family, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Advisor, at suzette@family-treks.com.