to Snorkel: Special Techniques for Kids
Article by Joel Simon
How many times have you heard the expression: "Its so
simple a child could do it?" With snorkeling, its so
simple especially a child can do it. In this section we look
at snorkeling with kids in mind. We outline techniques for helping
children develop essential skills while simultaneously relieving
any anxiety conscientious parents may have as they deliberately
immerse their progeny into the wide open wilderness of sharks, morays,
and other innocent "monsters" that live so easily in the
imaginative minds of youngsters. In fact, part of teaching kids
to snorkel is unveiling their unique and often inventive concerns
regarding the sea.
I learned to swim, I could fly. In my dreams, my early childhood
dreams, I could fly. I'd never even seen the ocean, but I knew the
sky. Perhaps it was these dreams that drew me to the water. By simply
putting on a mask, snorkel, and flippers, gravity slid quietly away,
left on the shore with my shoes, my towel, and the key to my bike
lock. Floating on the surface of a calm clear sea, watching fish
dance between shimmering shafts of sunlight was as close to flying
as a child could get in those days. And it was close enough for
me. It still is. At eight I fell off a horse. At eleven I fell off
a house. At 14 I fell off a speeding sled and at 18 off my downhill
skies. At 21 I fell off my water skis, nearly into a concrete canal
wall. I fall no more, one simply can not fall off the surface of
the water. Even underwater, you can only fall up! ... to the surface,
to continue floating. And that's just where I, and most snorkelers
of any age like to be.
it's easier than ever to share the weightless wondrous joy of snorkeling
with your children. In today's world of travel, facilitated by jet
planes, comfortable tropical resorts, cruise ships, and even day
care centers, families are visiting tropical shores more often,
and more easily than ever before. During these journeys, snorkeling
is a perfect recreational activity for the entire family, and especially
a real life example. Early one gray November morning, it was raining
lightly, my friends Jane and Mark Kriss called me up and asked "Isn't
there somewhere warm we can go to teach the kids how to snorkel?"
Jessie, 7, and Peter, 5, were tired of raincoats, and Jane and Mark
were tired of mud on the carpets. Mark had never put on a mask,
but Jane had. Snorkeling with her brother and parents in the Greek
Isles remains one of her fondest childhood memories. Now she was
looking for a vacation that her own family could enjoy together.
The Holidays were coming up and flight mileage had accumulated,
it was time. "Have you thought about the Caribbean?" I asked. "Every
day" they replied in unison.
As a first step,
we all went down to the local dive shop to get the kids some equipment.
A properly fitting mask is your childs greatest assurance
of enjoyable snorkeling. Masks come in a variety of shapes and sizes,
so be sure to find one that comfortably fits your childs face.
Jessie performed an easy test by holding the mask to his face without
placing the strap over his head. He breathed in gently through his
nose, and the mask was lightly sucked to his face, staying firmly
in place. This was a good fit, sealing out the air as it also would
with the water. Small lightweight fins are best for youngsters since
they will minimize undue strain on legs, knees, and ankles. The
salesman recommended we get the kids some floatation, either inflatable
vests or a "foam" belts. These can be a helpful pieces
of gear, but in this case both Peter and Jessie already knew how
to float. A couple of snorkels rounded out the necessary equipment.
they got on their plane, I loaned them a couple of waterproof fish
books. "You might put little checkmarks by the ones you see,"
I suggested as they waved good-bye.
After they returned
I called for a full report. The kids came back fluent in fish lingo--and
the names are fun: trumpet fish, cornet fish, and spotted drum.
"We saw an octopus, too, that changed all different colors.
It was better than TV," said Peter with eyes as big as a harvest
moon. "It was fantastic seeing all the fish, and seeing the
kids see all the fish," said Jane. "And it was really
safe for the children. The only danger was not wanting to get out
of the water!"
be as safe for children as it is enjoyable. And parents can really
help out by making sure their kids get proper instruction. Resorts
will often have qualified teachers available, but regardless of
who assists, there are some important elements to remember.
children must be comfortable in the water. This can begin well before
a snorkeling vacation. Jane says, "Its really fun to
start them out in the bath tub at home before you go. And its
probably the only way to get kids to wash their hair! Peter learned
to use his mask and snorkel in the tub before we tried the ocean
and it really helped."
kids may "take naturally" to mask, fins, and snorkel,
learning to use equipment usually takes time. Remember, snorkeling
is a training. Practice makes perfect, and beginning practice is
preferably in calm, shallow water, perhaps no deeper than your childs
arm is long. While floating face down while wearing a mask and snorkel,
even the view of fingers playing in the sand at arms length
is rewarding. And there are fish surprisingly close to shore. Shallow
areas are ideal for experimenting with buoyancy. Salt water supports
snorkelers better than the fresh water of pools, and developing
a confident ability to float is a major step towards safe, relaxed
snorkeling. Children should also practice treading water, (which
is very easy with fins) and prove to both their parents and themselves,
that they can calmly keep their head above the water should the
such varied reactions to the sea. Some are filled with trepidation,
others jump in with boundless enthusiasm. Mark and Jessie took the
methodical approach. Says Mark: "First we mastered the mask,
then the snorkel, and finally the fins. We took the entire first
day to become comfortable with the water and the equipment. It was
worth it, the rest of the week just floated by."
Ideally a mask
stays reasonably dry on the inside, but it can (and does) accidentally
fill with water. A flooded mask can be easily cleared by raising
the head, pulling the lower edge away from the mouth, and simply
letting the water drain out. The same applies to snorkels. A burst
of air should clear a flooded snorkel, but breathe in cautiously
afterwards just to make sure. If there isnt air available,
then simply remove the snorkel from the mouth. Under the controlled
conditions of very shallow water, its good to practice deliberately
flooding and clearing both mask and snorkle so that children can
calmly learn these techniques.
As young snorkelers
become more at ease wearing a mask, breathing through their mouths,
and feeling the salty water support their bodies, deeper water offers
an invitation, not a threat. And the best way to get there is with
fins. Fins facilitate fast swimming, as any kid will quickly discover,
but their greatest asset is increased efficiency. Used gently, they
let snorkelers glide nearly effortlessly along the surface, and
keep the body in a relaxed horizontal position. With fins, only
legs, not arms, are needed for propulsion. You might mention to
your kids that leisurely relaxed movements dont scare the
fish. So if they move slowly, not only is it safer, but they will
seem more friendly to the animals and will see much more.
From her experience
with Peter, Jane adds: "Its important to let the kids
develop their skills at their own pace. Every level is enjoyable,
especially if they arent pushed beyond their limits. Its
great for kids that havent mastered swimming because it gives
them motivation to improve. In fact, even kids that dont like
swimming will love snorkeling!"
limits will change with practice. As skills improve, these limits
will evolve accordingly. There is no glory in exceeding comfort
levels, in fact, it can be potentially hazardous. Parents can help
children acknowledge these limits in a positive sense by encouraging
them to get out when they get tired or cold or uncomfortable for
also be instructed to snorkel with their friends or family, but
never alone. This is called the buddy system, and actually makes
snorkeling, not only safer, but much more enjoyable. Buddy teams
invariably see more than single snorkelers, and sharing these observations
is part of the joy.
something we could all do together," said Jane. "In fact
the four of us held hands, making a big circle with our heads in
the middle, and floated over a huge school of tiny
florescent fish." And Mark added with a grin, "Holding
hands, we all floated at the same speed, so I could finally keep
up with them!"
As the Krisss
discovered, snorkeling was an activity easily learned by their children,
and enjoyed by all. Childhood memories hold a special and intimate
place in the hearts of every "grown up". After Peter and
Jessie were sound asleep, Mark and Jane thanked me for helping give
their children such a rewarding experience, and then confided with
a smile, "Perhaps as grandparents well have the chance
to do it all over again!".