Kids and diving : 6 important tips.
From the age of 8, kids can try out breathing underwater, and, from 10, they can actually become (junior) Open Water divers. However, as most experienced instructors will tell you, even though they can do it on paper, it doesn't mean that all kids that age are ready to do it in practice. Here are a few tips to make sure kids and parents have a great time diving and the passion gets passed on!
# 1 Make sure they want to do it
Passionate divers often can't wait to get their offspring in the water. It means they'll be able to take their kids on their favorite holidays, diving every day! However, kids, like life-partners, don't always love the same thing as their parents / better halves. The first essential step in working out if the first breaths underwater are going to be a success, and fun for all parties involved, is to determine if the kids are willing participants.
If you can tell that the pint-sized avid snorkelers can't wait to meet the marine life that have filled their mum and dad's stories since before they can remember, you are on a winner.
If, on the other hand, it's mum or dad pushing them to go when they would rather be building sand castles or playing catch with their friends, chances are they won't have much fun. One sibling might love it and the other might not. One might start diving at 10, one at 18. What is paramount is to not push someone else's desire onto the child and make sure they are there because THEY want to be.
# 2 Age appropriateness
Even though at 10 you can learn to dive, the Junior Open Water course may not be age appropriate at all for certain 10 year olds. Kids evolve differently, grow at different speeds and have different abilities and interests. Remember the Open Water course has quite a lot of theory which might not suit all kids at that age, it is also quite physical and you'll need some level of physical strength to get through it. For certain kids , that will not be an issue at all and they will sail through it. However, if there is any doubt on any of these aspects, repetitive discover scuba experiences can also do the trick quite well. The child will gain comfort and confidence in the water. The (very) basics of the theory and equipment use are covered and can be mastered easily, and essential skills can be learned, eventualy becoming automatic. When all these are easy and comfortable and the child is ready and asking for it , then there is plenty of time to start the course, step by step.
Another fun way to start the kids diving is having them join the PADI Seal Team program. They will have action packed fun in the pool and go on exciting aquamissions.
# 3 Slowly does it
A lot of dive centers plan the Open Water course in 3 or 4 days, meaning the confined water skills sessions are done back to back and often include 10 skills or more in one sitting. For some kids, this can become tedious , especially if they are itching to dive and explore. If at all feasible with the logistics (it's worth paying a little more for your kid to love diving and have a great experience), do short confined water skill sessions, interspersed by shallow open water dives, keeping the kids happy and eager and increasing their underwater mastery. Short confined water sessions and shortish dives, especially in colder waters, will ensure continuing enjoyment, motivation and energy levels.
# 4 Have the right gear
Kids get cold easily , they also get nasty chaffing from loose gear (think around the neck from a floaty BCD), sore toes (booties too small/too big) and all sorts of other ailments that might ruin their fun. If you are going to teach diving to kids or take your kids to a dive center to learn diving, make sure the dive gear available is child size, that it fits and is comfortable (we do have that, in case you were wondering!).
Insist on them wearing hoods if waters are little cooler (and even in tropical waters), kids get cold really really rapidely and will not apprciate the diving experience(as much) if they are. Being warm and comfortable will make a world of difference to their enjoyment.
#5 Don't patronize them
Yes they are kids but they are also divers, treat them like divers. Make sure they have dive computers and are equipped to be autonomous. Have them do everything a normal student or buddy/diver would do and only intervene if their size or physical strength is an impediment in their doing something. Kids are fast learners and often safe and confident divers with sharp eyes. If they point something out , make sure you check it out, you might be surprised by their finds critter wise.
#6 Keep it fun
Finally, like with any student but even more so with kids, keep it fun, keep it light and enjoy yourself (as a teacher or as a parent). Remember, they will do things in their own time and what is most important is for everyone to have a good time. No pressure or stress should enter this equation. They should, of course, learn the steps and cover all the performance requirements but if it's too tiring today and everyone is getting grumpy and frustrated better do it tomorrow.
If they can't do a skill, laugh it off, remember a funny similar incident (lots of people might get this one wrong, hey, maybe dad got this one wrong too when he started) and make a joke of it. Try again, even if it doesn't work the second time, it's something to giggle about not get mad or stressed about. Key rules : No pressure, lots of fun, get it done.
Once you've got those kids hooked, there is nothing better in the world than to go off together to explore the magical realm of the ocean kingdom as a family. And the older generation can rely on the small ones' sharp eyesight and endless amazement to have the dives of their life!