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Snorkeling with kids is one of the best ways to get them excited about the ocean. Whether it’s seeing their first sea turtle, watching clams open and close or seeing a clown fish just like Nemo, snorkeling is a great way to connect kids with nature.
We’ve been snorkeling with our 5 kids for the last decade, and it’s easily one of our favorite family activities. Some of them learned to snorkel when they were in grade school, and others learned some snorkeling basics just after they could walk. Regardless of the age, we have taught all of our kids to snorkel the same way and it’s been so effective. In fact, we’ve taught tons of our friends’ kids how to snorkel as well, so we know that what we’re doing really works.
How Easy Is It for Kids to Learn to Snorkel?
If kids learn to snorkel in a controlled environment FIRST (like a pool) it’s actually pretty easy. If you just take them out into open water, like the ocean, and expect that they can figure out how to snorkel, you’ll likely have some problems.
On our recent trip to the Corn Islands in Caribbean Nicaragua, we spent most of our week there snorkeling and diving with our kids. About halfway through the trip, another mom came up to me at the beach and asked how our kids got so good at snorkeling.
You see, they were on their first family beach trip, and excitedly booked snorkeling excursions for their first few days. It was a disaster. Their girls, ages 7, 11, and 13 were terrified by even the smallest waves and none of them could relax enough to figure out how to breathe through a snorkel. Every trip out into the ocean ended in tears, and after a few days, none of the kids even wanted to get in the water past their waist.
No one was at fault here, the parents just didn’t know the best way to teach kids to snorkel and their efforts backfired. Always start in the pool (or even a bathtub), so that kids can relax while learning to breathe through their snorkel, THEN move to open water.
How We Taught Our Kids to Snorkel
I never thought that we’d be a snorkeling family.
I didn’t try to snorkel until I was 23, and I went out on a boat trip for my first snorkeling excursion, and it was a disaster. I had such a hard time breathing through my snorkel and I thought I was going to drown, because I didn’t know how to relax and just float in the water. I walked away never wanting to snorkel again.
When all of our kids were little, we moved to the Middle East and lived right on the shores of the Red Sea. The shoreline was packed with coral reefs that made the water incredibly calm, and it was home to some of the best coral reefs on earth, so we decided to give snorkeling another try. Every week, we’d go snorkeling without kids.
Our youngest was just 6 months old, so we would take a paddleboard out with us, and anchor it to the bottom and he could just sit on the paddleboard and splash with one parent while the other took the older kids out to snorkel. We quickly learned that snorkeling was a great equalizer for our 10 year age gap of kids. Our older kids could snorkel alongside the toddlers and everyone had an amazing time.
Teaching Kids How to Snorkel – A Step-by-Step Process
Teaching your kids to snorkel might seem like a daunting task at first, but trust me, it’s a journey worth taking. With patience, and the right environment, your kids will be exploring under the sea in no time.Here’s a comprehensive guide on teaching your kids to snorkel, starting from the basics in the pool to free diving in the open water.
Getting Comfortable with Water
Before introducing your kids to snorkeling, make sure they are comfortable in the water. They should be able to float, tread water, and swim short distances. If they can’t do all of that unassisted, don’t worry – knowing how to swim is not a prerequisite for snorkeling. Put a life jacket on them and teach them a few swimming basics, and know that you’ll need to watch your non-swimmers more carefully. If kids are comfortable in the water, it will be easier for them to relax while snorkeling.
Step 1: Practice Looking Underwater with a Mask
The first step to snorkeling is getting comfortable wearing the mask. Begin in a controlled environment like a swimming pool or even a bathtub. While many kids are comfortable wearing swim goggles, a snorkeling mask fits differently since it covers the nose as well. It can take some kids quite a while to adjust to wearing a snorkeling mask instead of goggles, but having a plugged nose helps a lot in the long run.
Start by showing your child how to wear their snorkeling mask. It should fit snugly around their face, but not too tight that it’s uncomfortable. The strap should sit high on the back of the head (if it slips too low, the mask will fall off), and hair should be clear of the seal to avoid leaks.
Next, encourage your child to put their face in the water and open their eyes. Start in the bathtub or the pool – wherever your child is most comfortable.
Step 2: Learning to Swim with Just A Snorkel Mask
Once your child is comfortable with submerging their face with the snorkeling mask on, have them practice swimming around the pool. It’s a pretty simple step, but it’s good to get them used to moving around underwater before they start snorkeling. If they’re comfortable, they can dive down, and play underwater with their kids snorkeling mask on.
Step 3: Practice Breathing Underwater with a Mask and Snorkel
Once your child is comfortable with the mask, it’s time to introduce the snorkel. At this point, you’re just having them sit still – no swimming involved. We find that sitting on the steps of the pool is the perfect place to practice breathing with a snorkel on. The first skill to master is breathing through the snorkel without submerging their face in the water. This will allow them to get used to what it feels like to breathe through the tube.
The next step is to have your child put their face in the water while continuing to breathe through the snorkel. Remind them to stay relaxed and breathe normally. This is a big step right here, so don’t skip over it. It almost always takes several attempts, so patience is important here. Remember that for your child, breathing underwater is completely unnatural, so give them some time to figure it out. Let them know that if they’re uncomfortable or scared, they just have to lift their head out of the water and they can breathe normally.
Step 4: Practice Snorkeling in a Pool
Once your child is comfortable breathing through the snorkel with their face submerged, they’re ready to start moving in the water. Start in the shallow end where they can stand up if they’re uncomfortable and have them try to float while breathing through their snorkel. This can take A LOT of concentration and relaxation for most kids, so be there to offer help. Remind your kids that the secret of being a great snorkeler is not to go really fast, but rather to relax.
We recommend either putting a life jacket on them to help them float, or to hold onto them so they can float more easily. All you’re working on here is just getting them to be comfortable moving underwater while breathing through a snorkel.
Step 5: Introduce Snorkeling Fins for Kids
While it’s completely possible to snorkel without wearing fins, most kids will want to use them. Snorkeling fins for kids give them more power while swimming and overall require less energy than swimming alone. All that kids really care about is that they can swim faster and more easily with snorkel fins on.
Introduce your kids to wearing snorkeling fins in the pool. While there are certain techniques to snorkeling with fins, for kids all that they should do at this point is focus on kicking their legs.
Step 6: Learning to Snorkel in Open Water with a Life Jacket
After mastering snorkeling in the pool, it’s time to transition to open water. For the first few sessions, ensure your child ALWAYS wears a life jacket for extra safety. Choose a calm, clear day and a safe location with shallow water and minimal boat traffic.
When you introduce your kids to snorkeling in Open Water, go through the same steps that you did in the pool. Start with just the mask, add in the snorkel, practice swimming, and finally add in fins. Going through the same steps as you did in the pool will help kids to remember the process and to get more confident in the water. Remember to be close at hand to help them. Getting kids to relax in open water can be a challenge, especially if there are any waves (which there almost always are). Give them some time to figure it out and play with their equipment in the ocean so they get comfortable and familiar with everything.
Step 7: Learning to Snorkel Without a Life Jacket
For most kids, they can spend most of their snorkeling time in the water wearing a life jacket. However, for older kids, really strong swimmers, and kids who want to freedive, you may want to consider letting them take their life jacket off. If this sounds like a good fit for your child, ALWAYS be nearby to help them in case of any problem. For our kids just learning how to freedive, we have them wear a life jacket, take it off for a bit to dive, and then put it back on. Remember that visibility underwater is always less than on land, so kids should stay pretty close so you can always have a visual on them.
Like the other steps of teaching kids to snorkel, start in shallow water where kids can practice their swimming.
For kids who need a little bit extra floatation, but not a full life jacket, consider having them wear a wetsuit. Wetsuits offer a good amount of extra buoyancy and while they’re not a life saving device, tehy do help kids float a little bit better.
Step 8: Snorkeling With Your Kids
Before you get in the water, set up a safety system for where kids can go in the water and how far away (we’ve got tips below). Explain to kids that you can’t talk and hear people under water so they have to use touch to get someone’s attention. For beginning snorkelers, we recommend always having an adult right next to them. In fact, we usually hold hands with them. This allows the parent to guide where the kids go, and with a quick squeeze of the hand to get their attention. It works fantastically, both to keep kids comfortable and feeling safe and to keep an eye on them.
Safety Tips For Snorkeling with Kids
Before you start snorkeling with your kids, make sure that both they and you have gone over some basic safety precautions. Communicate with them clearly so that they really know what’s expected of them, since open water snorkeling can be dangerous.
Identify Any Currents
When you’re snorkeling in open water with kids, make sure to take note of any currents. You can ask other snorkelers on the beach or your boat captain if you’re out at sea. In addition, always check the currents for yourself before you get in. Make sure that your family is aware of the currents and where they will push them. We usually recommend swimming into any currents first, and then letting the current push you back to your starting spot on the way back.
Never ever go snorkeling without a buddy. We make sure that each of our kids has a snorkel buddy who’s about their same ability level to swim with. In addition, we also have a rule that each buddy pair must stay within underwater view of mom and dad. Younger kids or beginning snorkelers should partner with an adult.
Dress Kids In Bright Colors
It can get really hard to see kids underwater, and even above water when all you can see is their snorkel popping up. Dressing kids in bright colors and getting a bright colored snorkeling set makes this so much easier. I personally had blue snorkel fins and a blue and white snorkel and my husband and kids complain about how hard it is to see me. Because of that, we get our kids bright colored snorkeling gear whenever possible. Those bright yellow fins or neon pink snorkel might seem a bit too bold, but they are a lifesaver when trying to spot each other in the water. Bright swimwear also helps a lot!
Best Kids Snorkeling Gear
We’ve tried a lot of kids snorkeling gear through the years. I’m certain we’ve tried just about every product from every major brand of kids snorkel gear. Some of it is AMAZING! Others are just okay, and we don’t hang on to long. To see our top recommendations, read our full article about the best kids snorkeling gear.
Here are our quick picks for the best kids snorkeling gear:
Best Snorkeling Gear for Toddlers
Aqua Sphere Sphera Toddler Swim & Snorkeling mask
Best Snorkel Sets for Kids
Promate Youth Snorkel Combo Set
U.S. Divers Regal Kids Snorkel Set
Cressi Rocks Kids Set
Best Snorkel Gear for Teens
Cressi Mask and Snorkel Set
Greatever Dry Snorkel and Mask
Cressi Full Pocket Snorkel Fins
Cressi Adjustable Short Fins
Tips For Snorkeling With Little Kids
Kids can start to snorkel as soon as they are comfortable in the water. 3 of our kids learned to snorkel with us as toddlers. Others weren’t ready until they were older. The hardest part about snorkeling with little kids is getting them used to having the snorkel in their mouth. For really young kids, we have them use this snorkel mask (hands down the best for little kids) and don’t introduce a snorkel until later.
We usually have them ride on our back for comfort and then they can easily pull their head out of the water whenever they need a breath. This is so much easier for snorkeling with toddlers since being all the way in the water for long periods of time can be difficult for them. Riding on a parents back allows them to still feel like they’re out of the water a bit but to also see anything they want. To get their attention to look at something under water, we give their hands a small squeeze and point where they should look.
At what age can kids learn to snorkel?
Kids can get in the water and snorkel around with their family as soon and they’re comfortable in the water. For several of our kids, this was around 15-18 months. We typically don’t introduce a snorkel until at least age 3, and then just have it as an option for them. Snorkels can be really uncomfortable in tiny mouths, so don’t pressure them to use the snorkel, just focus on getting them to enjoy their time in open water.
How can I keep kids warm while snorkeling?
Kids often get really cold while snorkeling. Being in the cold water (or even warm tropical water) can drop kids body temperatures quickly. I’m all too familiar with cold kids while snorkeling. Most of our kids are very skinny and get cold very easy while snorkeling so they regularly wear wetsuits. Read our full review of the best kids wetsuits to help choose the one that’s best for your kids. We recommend full body wetsuits unless your kids just need a tiny bit of extra warmth.
Are full face snorkel masks safe for kids?
Absolutely NOT! With full face snorkel masks, there is a big risk of CO2 build up inside. This can be so dangerous for kids, especially since many of them won’t recognize the symptoms of CO2 build up in their bodies. DO NOT use a full face snorkel mask with kids.
Note: We have tried them once or twice with teens who are struggling to get comfortable in the water. I recommend only using them with kids over the age of 12 and for no longer than 10 minutes at a time.
What safety precautions should I take when snorkeling with kids?
Always supervise children while snorkeling, even for older kids who swim well. Ideally, you should be in the water with them. Teach kids about underwater hazards including wildlife and dangerous currents, and the dangers of touching corals. Life jackets are always a great idea for kids learning how to snorkel.
What if my child is scared to snorkel?
It’s normal for a child to feel a bit scared or nervous about snorkeling initially. Let them progress at their own pace and never force them to go beyond their comfort level. Start in the pool and only move to open water when they’re comfortable in the pool. Wearing a life jacket also makes snorkeling easier for kids since they don’t have to think about floating. Encourage them, provide reassurance, and share in the excitement of discovering the underwater world together.
How can I prevent getting sunburned while snorkeling?
Sun protection is crucial when snorkeling as water can intensify the sun’s rays, and sunscreen doesn’t last as long in the water. The best way to prevent sunburn is with sun protective clothing. Everyone in our family burns very easily (4 of our kids are freckled red heads), and with my own history of skin cancer, we take sun protection very seriously. Wear sun protective long sleeve shirts, and reapply sunscreen everywhere that isn’t covered every hour. To protect the areas, where you’re snorkeling, use a reef safe sunscreen – this sunscreen works incredibly well. The best sun protection while snorkeling is to wear a wetsuit.
Looking for places to snorkel? Check out cenotes in Mexico!