If you’re going on a tropical vacation and want to take the whole family, you may be at a loss for ideas on how to occupy your children’s attention while lounging on the beach or snorkeling in the lagoons. Maybe they’ve even shown interest in getting in the ocean and finding sea turtles or brightly colored fish. If this is the case, you may wonder how to introduce your kids to snorkeling. Follow our guide on teaching kids to snorkel and you’ll have them in the water in no time.
First, be sure you’re familiar with snorkeling yourself. It’s a lot easier to teach others techniques that you know. For a refresher on some more advanced techniques that will be helpful as an adult, watch our video on how to snorkel.
When your children are old enough to feel comfortable in the pool, start getting them accustomed to snorkeling equipment. Whether they’re in the bath tub or the pool, let them play with the snorkel and mask in the shallow water. If they’re familiar with a mask or snorkel and the equipment doesn’t feel like a chore or an assignment, they’re much more likely to feel comfortable when they start utilizing them in the ocean.
If you’re getting a new mask, be sure to first clean the lenses. There’s a film that gets left over from production that is likely to make the mask fog quickly if not cleaned off first.
The mask should be the first piece kids should start to use. Though it’s difficult to learn how to not breathe through their nose, kids are excited by the prospect of being able to see underwater and goggles are typically the first piece of gear children are likely to use. A snorkel mask presents an adjustment because it has the added nose piece to prevent inhalation of water while using the snorkel.
The tricky part with snorkel masks and introducing them to small children is the fit. Kids don’t like when a mask is ill-fitting, pulls on their hair, or if water leaks into the glass. Here are a few tips to help properly fit a kid’s snorkel mask.
Pick a snorkel set that is somewhere between high-end and cheap. Cheap masks are likely to have a plastic mask skirt instead of a silicone one. Silicone mask skirts fit more comfortably and provide a tighter seal than the plastic alternative.
Remember to brush all hair back off of your child’s face before tightening down a snorkel mask. Hair can create a pathway for air to escape (or water to enter) the mask if caught in the silicone skirt. It can also be painful if not fitted along the hairline just right. If your son or daughter complains about the straps pulling on their hair, consider getting a swim
cap to cover his or her hair to avoid the tugging.
A common misconception (especially with children) is that the tighter the mask, the better the fit. If the mask isn’t properly sized in the first place, all the tightening in the world won’t matter. The mask needs to be pressed on. Then make sure the seal is secure even without the strap and then tightened down just enough to hold the mask in place. Watch to see if the mask pinches anywhere on their nose or around their eye sockets.
If they’re frustrated with how it’s fitting, just take a break and try again later. It’s not worth it to traumatize them and create an aversion to the mask itself. Either try from a different angle the next time or experiment with a different snorkel mask.
Let your kids play with the mask in the water. They’ll love looking for items in the shallow end. Once they get accustomed to their mask, you can start giving them other pieces. Until then, let them practice the body up, face down in the water technique before having them swim. One step at a time.
For those kids who may be a little older, you can teach them how to clear their mask. For younger children, this will be standing in the shallows and dumping the water out of the bottom of the mask without taking it off completely. For older kids, you can teach them to clear their mask underwater by blowing through their nose and having the water evacuate. Or they can stand in the shallow end where they can either kneel or stand and press on the top of their mask while they quickly expel air through their nose and out the bottom of the mask.
When used in the ocean, be sure to have some defogger handy. Kids are likely to get frustrated with a mask they can’t see out of.
The next piece of equipment you’ll want to add is the actual snorkel. Breathing through their mouth is usually want makes kid panic the most so get them acquainted with it as soon as you can.
One major mistake people make is giving their kids an adult sized snorkel which has a wider bore and is usually longer. This is a problem because kids’ lung capacity is significantly less than an adult’s and they either will feel immediately uncomfortable breathing because they don’t feel like they’re getting enough air or they will be breathing recycled oxygen that can’t escape the snorkel itself. Either way, be sure your smaller children are using a snorkel proportionate to their size.
Give them the snorkel to play with in the water. There are three stages where they can test out new equipment: out of water, standing with their face in the water, and swimming while using the apparatus. Let them use the snorkel at each stage until they’re comfortable to move onto the next. They may not want the snorkel attached to the mask so if they want to hold it while they swim, let them. Worry about them using each piece of equipment and feeling confident with it before worrying about technique.
Kids probably won’t need to purge water from their snorkel unless they’re doing some free diving or having waves crash overhead. If they are going underwater, they’ll want to learn to purge the snorkel of water. The easiest way for them in the beginning is to simply lift and dump—let the mouthpiece out of their mouth and dump out any water that has accumulated in it. Let kids practice this in the shallow end.
The proper way to purge is by expelling air quickly through the purge valve on the bottom of the snorkel. This can be done in or out of the water. Get kids to try it while standing—you can even make a game of it by trying to get them to spray you or other kids around them. If they’re not comfortable quite yet with the purge technique, that’s okay. Just let them dump it out.
Fins may not be something smaller kids are okay with wearing so if they fight it, don’t push them into trying them. Instead, concern yourself with getting them familiar with the mask and snorkel first.
Older kids will love the added kick (pun intended) they get from a nice set of fins. It won’t be long before they figure out how much easier it is to navigate the pool and eventually open water with the help fins provide. The biggest challenge will be putting them on. Kids should sit on the stairs of a pool or very shallow water to get them on. The “figure four” is the best way to do this either sitting or standing. Simply cross your foot over the opposite knee and slip on the fins and go! If you plan on going to the beach, teach older kids how to approach the water by walking backward while wearing their fins.
Work on your kid’s kick in the water. Have them lay on their back and teach them to flutter kick—alternate kicking of one leg at a time—and to start the motion from their hip and not their knees. On their back, they can become familiar with how this should look and feel. Then flip them onto their abdomen and have them continue the kick, making sure they’re using their hips.
If you take your kids on a real snorkeling vacation there are a few things you’ll want to be sure of. First, get them to try out all their equipment in the hotel pool before any ocean exposure just to get acclimated. Next, take them to a spot with little to no waves like a protected bay or a lagoon. This will help them adjust to being in the ocean with real underwater critters before they start battling swells in addition. Be sure they have proper flotation if they need it—they may just want a pool noodle or kickboard to keep under them so they can snorkel without worrying about staying afloat on their own.
Teach your kids to be mindful of other snorkelers around them. You don’t want them to accidentally kick someone in the face or get scraped against some coral because they weren’t watching where they were going. Teach them how to look without touching and how to be still in the water so that they’re not scaring off the surrounding sea life.
Stay in touch (literally) when you’re together with a young child in the ocean. You can hold hands while you observe or hook your finger into their life vest—just make sure you stick together in the open water. Not only do you not want anyone swept away in currents, you want to be there if something happens to prevent your child from getting frightened or panicking.
Most importantly: have fun! Teaching kids to snorkel shouldn't be a stressful experience. It should be all about the memories you make in the water together. Your kids will follow your lead--if you're having a good time, they'll have a good time.
Have you taken your kids snorkeling? What were some common hang-ups you encountered? Comment below!