Snorkeling is fun but it can be a challenge to learn at any age. We taught our 3-year-old how to snorkel so he could go for his 4th birthday!
Crystal clear water, colorful fish, getting out in the sun and warm weather; snorkeling promises to be quite the experience. It’s fun, relaxing and even a child can do it!
Check out our trip to Ishigaki and see how our 2-year-old has since learned to snorkel as well!
Why learn how to snorkel?
Experience life under the sea! We want to explore all the world around us, and 71% of it is covered by water. Plus, as a family in the Navy we plan to be near the ocean…a lot! Snorkeling is an easy way to literally immerse yourself in an incredible world.
Our son, Royce, had always loved the water but he still wasn’t completely at ease. When we decided to teach him how to snorkel by his 4th birthday for our trip to Okinawa, there were a number of things we helped him do to prepare.
- Take swim lessons
- Become confident using a floatie
- Learn to hold his breath
- Learn to put his face in the water
- Learn to breathe with the snorkel
Step 1 – Swim Lessons
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Matt and I both spent lots of time at the pool/ocean growing up, and we wanted our kids to be comfortable and safe around water. We signed Royce up for swim lessons when he was 2, but it wasn’t always a walk in the park. Sometimes getting in the water at all was tough!
After his lessons, we went to the pool irregularly and consequently didn’t see a ton of progress.
We signed him up again when he was 3, and wow, what a difference! His instructor was part of a team of young Americans working in Japan for the summer. They used a Red Cross swimming program, and Royce progressed very well and had a great time.
Step 2 – Using a Floatie/Life Jacket
We wanted the kids to be able to float by themselves, without us holding onto them. They are young enough that we believed using a floatie would be more realistic than expecting them to swim and float alone. We used Stearns Puddle Jumper life jackets for both of the kids.
This summer I tried to go to the beach or pool as often as we could so the kids would feel comfortable in the water, using their floaties. It worked for both of them. Maybe it was just because they were both a bit older, but between the end of the summer last year and the beginning of this summer, they both learned to really love using their floaties!
Step 3 – Holding a Breath
Royce was inspired by seeing other kids his age holding their breath underwater. Royce wanted to do it too! First I held his nose to make sure he wasn’t breathing through his nose then I told him to take a deep breath and close his mouth. He was able to do it for about 12 seconds his first time. He eventually started plugging his own nose, and he would go for it on his own. Every bath time he would ask us to time him, and he would do it over and over again!
Then he took his new skill to the pool and started jumping in the water he was no longer afraid of putting his face in. It was incredible!
Step 4 – Face in the Water
Snorkeling would be pretty boring with your face out of the water! During Royce’s swim lessons, he started using goggles and loved being able to see underwater. He would usually plug his nose and kick around while paddling with one hand, but it was a big step.
Next came the mask. As soon as Royce tried on his snorkeling mask and got in the water, he started giggling.
“I thought I had to plug my nose!” he laughed. He had placed his hand against his covered nose only to feel the rubber. He loved having both hands free to swim!
Step 5 – Snorkel
Adding the snorkel to the mix was surprisingly easy. We intended to practice at a pool, but our hotel didn’t allow it. Instead, we tried it out for the very first time at the beach!
On the morning of his 4th birthday we took Royce to Maeda Flats in Okinawa, Japan. At first he was reluctant to put on his life jacket, but we didn’t want him hanging onto us the whole time so we made sure he used it.
Then came the big test…but all Royce did was put the snorkel in his mouth, breathe a few times out of the water, place his face in the water – and boom, he was snorkeling! We were thrilled – I couldn’t believe it, he kept his head under the water for a few breaths and probably only lifted his head up because we were yelling with excitement! I had no doubt that he could do it, but I really thought it would take a bit more for him to get used to it. He and Matt immediately floated out over the coral.
He spent the next half hour pointing out the fish and having such a good time seeing everything. It was magical having him get our attention to show us what he was seeing, and sharing his excitement, sense of discovery, and complete confidence in his newfound skill.
Keys to Success: Mental Preparation and Proper Equipment
When Royce decided he wanted to learn how to snorkel, I knew that without preparation it could be a frustrating experience.
We showed him a couple of videos of kids snorkeling and we pointed out that they were swimming with beautiful fish. Royce loves animals, and the idea of swimming with them was really exciting for him. Then we took it to the next phase.
We took him to the Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa, Japan and showed him the fish in the tanks. He loves animals, so he really enjoyed watching them. We reminded him that sometimes people swim with fish and talked up being able to swim with the fish like the kids in the videos had done.
Having the right equipment
The floatie was essential. He was able to swim as long as he wanted and wasn’t afraid. He was comfortable and either had his arms and legs out like an airplane, hanging down while watching fish or in a ball trying to keep warm. It was easy for us to enjoy our time, too, since he wasn’t hanging onto us!
We didn’t buy a cheap snorkel for him. We got him a high-quality Cressi snorkel with some key features: a splash guard to reduce water entering, a valve that seals off the snorkel as you dive (it works super well), and a purge valve at the base of the snorkel.
Royce never got water in the snorkel even after sticking his head so far in that it was totally submerged. I know he would have wanted to give up if the gear wasn’t functioning well. It may seem crazy to spend $35 on a snorkel for a kid, but it’s worth it!
What we didn’t prepare for…
Cold water! Royce really doesn’t like cold water. He has more of a “let’s go swim in the hot tub” mentality. The wetsuit we got him for birthday didn’t arrive in time for this trip, but next time we will have it for sure. I think that is the only thing that could have made his first trip snorkeling even better.
When we were done, we watched the videos we made with him. He was excited to watch himself. He, and we felt like it was a wonderful accomplishment!
Every kid learns differently, but this is what worked for Royce. I really think that taking the time to get him used to water, letting him try new things a step at a time and having the right equipment is what helped him snorkel by his 4th birthday! Read all about our trip to Okinawa!