Getting their kids certified to dive means a lot to many parents, as they can then share a beloved pastime with the whole family. But teaching children to scuba dive is different than teaching adults. How do parents know what to look for when it comes to a children’s instructor? And how should instructors adapt their teaching style to accommodate young learners?
Teaching children to scuba dive: finding an instructor
First and foremost, clear communication between the instructor and parents is critical. Instructors should meet with parents and children before the course begins, or ask parents to attend the beginning of the first class day. If the instructor or dive shop hasn’t arranged a meeting or first-day orientation, ask for one. Communicate via e-mail with your child’s instructor or the shop before the course, clarifying the schedule and what he or she should bring to class. Parents should be able to come to class if they like, sitting on the pool deck or at the back of the classroom. Instructors will debrief class participants, and an additional parental debrief at the end of the day will alleviate concerns.
Parents should also look for instructors who have experience working with children, in scuba or in other situations. Ask for testimonials from previous students and their parents.
The instructor should adapt their mannerisms to a child’s perspective. Simple language and explanations, briefing while sitting in a circle on the pool deck, or even sitting beside participants versus standing over them when they assemble equipment can be useful techniques for relating to younger divers.
How to teach children
Children are generally very enthusiastic in scuba courses, but also have a shorter attention span. Conducting training in smaller segments is a good approach; this keeps it fun, and retention will improve. Consider completing a course over several half days, as opposed to full days. Kids also do well with routine, so keep the structure predictable. For example, meet in the classroom first, then head to the water for the second portion of your time. Keep meeting places consistent and establish expectations.
Take more frequent breaks. Be aware that younger divers may need extra reminders regarding safety issues — keep it light, but make sure they understand the risks involved in our sport and how to stay safe. A child’s understanding of consequences is more limited than an adult’s, but nonetheless, they’ve got to be prepared if something goes wrong.
Instructors must go into more detail when explaining logistics to children as well. You may not have to tell adults to walk on a pool deck because they can slip, but a child may need to be told not to run. If you promise a game or snack break, you must honor that promise.
Buy the right gear
Properly fitting gear is essential when it comes to kids. Smaller masks and fins, appropriately sized BCDs, and smaller mouthpieces on regulators should be available. Children will get cold faster, so exposure gear is a must. A shorter pool session may only require a rash guard, but a well-fitting wetsuit is a better choice, particularly for open-water dives. Smaller tanks, such as 40cf or 60cf, work best if they’re available. These keep the tank weight proportionate to the body size and strength of participants.
As for parents, one of your most important considerations is your child’s comfort level in the water. They needn’t be competitive swimmers to succeed at scuba diving, but basic water skills are essential. Prior swimming lessons and practice or some snorkeling experiences will help prepare a child for scuba skills. Airway control, and even acclimating to the sensation of water on one’s eyes, face, and nose are all developed by spending time in the water. Snorkeling is particularly good for preparation, since the child will have already become accustomed to wearing a mask in the water, and may even have practice clearing a snorkel. It will be easier to focus on the scuba component if the child has other aquatic experiences prior to the course.
Is your child ready to dive?
Another key consideration for parents, aside from physical readiness, is whether or not your child is psychologically prepared to dive. Training agencies set minimum age limits to ensure safety, and take into consideration physiological development and mental ability. But these are just guidelines — some children at the minimum age do very well, and some aren’t ready. Speak honestly with your child and respect their interest or lack thereof. Kids must be the ones who are excited about diving, not you. Be supportive and willing to postpone training if the child doesn’t respond well initially. As a well-prepared instructor, teaching children to scuba dive is a fun, rewarding experience. As well-prepared parents, you can rest assured that your kids were taught by the best and focus on the years of enjoyment that will come from sharing your passion.