Both of my kids could swim, however, I didn't consider either of them to be strong swimmers. Having snorkeled before, I also was aware of other elements to consider that could pose a problem once inside the water. Whether your kid is a confident swimmer or a bit more timid, the following tips can help set your kids up for success when preparing for their first snorkeling excursion in the ocean. Even a confident swimmer in the pool can feel a bit intimidated by the waves and may need some practice learning how to breath calmly while wearing a snorkel mask. I am by no means an expert, however, the following tips worked well for us. I hope it helps your kids as well.
1. Purchase your child his/her own snorkel set before your trip. Inexpensive snorkel gear can be found at large sporting goods stores and even large warehouse stores will sometimes carry them (we purchased ours for about $20 at Costco). Having her own snorkel set will allow her to get familiar with the gear - most kids will be super excited to try their's on :)
2. Fill up the bathtub with water and have your child wear the mask in the tub. Even many adults get a bit anxious when first learning to breath through the snorkel under water. The bathtub is a great place to try it out for the first time. It's not as large as a pool so it enables your kid to sit in the shallow water and stick his face in the water without having to think about swimming at the same time. I tried this with my son, who was 5 at the time. We placed a few non-floating toys at the bottom of the bathtub for him to look at underwater. He thought it was fun and played in the tub with his mask for a long time. My daughter, who was 7 at the time, couldn't wait for her turn :)
3. Once your child is comfortable breathing in the snorkel, have him try it out in a pool. If you have access to a pool, you can have your child practice floating face-down with his mask on in the water. This may take some practice, depending on the swimming level of your child. When my son was 5, he was afraid to float laying down on his stomach in the water. Which leads to my next tip...
4. When seeking out snorkeling spots at your destination, look for areas with minimal waves and reefs in shallow waters. This may take some extra research on your part, but it will be well worth it if you do. The water in Puerto Rico, for example, is generally calmer on the east side of the island than it is on the west (Ricón, on the west coast, is a popular surfing spot due to the large waves...not so great for snorkeling, though). When our kids were younger, we stuck to shallow bay areas because the waves were generally smaller and the water was shallow enough for our kids to stand in. This is great for the cautious beginner who isn't quite ready to put on her fins. A child can wear water shoes and stand up while putting her face in the water with her mask on while she walks around. We did do some Google searching before we left, but we also talked with locals when we arrived and asked if they knew of any good snorkeling spots for kids - they were friendly and eager to tell us, as most locals are proud of their home and happy to share it's beauty with visitors (try asking your server at a restaurant or a cashier at a store). We would also explore along the beaches, carrying our snorkel gear with us, keeping an eye out for reefs. This was exciting because it gave us the feeling of exploration and made the trip feel more like an adventure than just a vacation.
5. Be sure to teach your child to not touch any coral. Some coral can deliver an excruciating sting and it's definitely worth your time and theirs to learn to identify stinging coral in the area. While many coral do not sting, they still should not be touched because the oils in our skin can kill the coral. Our oils disturb the delicate mucous membrane that helps protect the coral from disease. This is a great opportunity to teach your children about conservation and about how they can enjoy the sea and help preserve it while they are there.
6. Unless you are very familiar with the creatures that live in the reefs and are familiar with the proper way to handle them, it's best practice to leave them alone. Many creatures in reefs are harmless and it's tempting to want to pick them up. However, if not handled properly they can accidentally be injured by amateur handlers (and strong kid grips!).
7. Water shoes are a must! Unless you're snorkeling in deep water, you'll most likely not put fins on your child if she's not a strong swimmer. However, the reefs are sharp and a bad cut can ruin a day at the beach. Water shoes can be purchased just about anywhere - I've had great luck finding inexpensive pairs on Amazon and Zulily. When your child is in the water, instruct her to look in the water before she walks to avoid stepping on any creatures or coral.
8. Life vests are essential to your child's safety. Even in shallow waters, accidents can happen. A small wave to an adult will have a bigger impact on a small child. Even if you are confident in your child's swimming abilities, it's always best to put a vest on him. Anyone who has spent time in the sea knows how quickly a wave can come along and knock a person over. Another great thing about a life vest is you can tether a smaller child to you if you are wearing a vest, too (if you're not wearing a vest, you can tether your end of the cord to your wrist). Paracord is great for this, just make sure your knots are secure. This will keep parent and child connected should a larger wave come along (it also keeps young ones from wandering too far away).
Getting your kids comfortable with the snorkel mask and the water beforehand will help ensure a smoother transition to the sea. There are so many exciting things to explore under the water and it's wonderful to discover what's underneath together. Just another reason to get outside and #ExploreTogether.
Do you have any tips for snorkeling with kids? Please comment below!
Did you find this post helpful? Please comment and share! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @outdooruseonly.