Deciding when to start your child’s diving career and which program to choose can be confusing. There are multiple programs for each age group and not a lot of information available to clarify the differences. In this multi-part series, we’ll profile the PADI course offerings for kids, beginning with the PADI Bubblemaker program.
Begin with PADI Bubblemaker
There are several levels of PADI certifications for children. Bubblemaker and Seal Team programs are available for the youngest students, with a minimum age of 8 years old. Here we’ll focus on Bubblemaker and why you might want to choose this program for your 8-year-old over the Seal Team program.
Bubblemaker gives kids a chance to use scuba gear (mask, fins, tank, BCD with low-pressure inflator, regulator, and submersible pressure gauge) in a confined-water environment and, as the name indicates, make bubbles. The water should be no deeper than six feet (2 m). Ideally it’s shallow enough that the child can stand up. Instructors require your child to be comfortable in the water before beginning, although they don’t need any prior scuba exposure to participate in the class. Some dive shops may even offer Bubblemaker birthday parties. That’s on a case-by-case basis, however, depending on the shop. The ratio of student-to-instructor is 6-to-1 or 4-to-1 with an assistant instructor or with an instructor in confined open-water other than a pool.
What they’ll learn
During this very basic introduction to scuba, children learn about scuba equipment and how it works. Afterward, they get a chance to try it out. They learn to equalize, clear a regulator and mask, and to breathe efficiently, all while an instructor supervises. Many dive shops that offer the Bubblemaker program use junior-sized BCDs, smaller mouthpieces, and sometimes, smaller tanks. While PADI does not require smaller gear, using it certainly makes it easier for a small child to try scuba.
Once they complete the roughly hour-long lesson, the student will receive a Bubblemaker certificate and card. The child will complete his or her logbook entries with the assistance of the instructor. Sheila Shelton, IDC Staff Instructor at Texan Scuba in Huntsville, Texas, recommends Bubblemaker for kids who are not yet strong swimmers, or who may have some apprehension about the water, but want to try it out.
Since this program is a one-time, hour-long activity, the child will only really try the equipment briefly and realize that they can breathe underwater. The next article in this series will focus on the Seal Team PADI program, also available to kids as young as 8 years old. That program allows the child to use the equipment while doing other activities in the water. In either case, Shelton says that parents must accurately evaluate their child’s readiness and maturity level to undertake any scuba program, no matter how basic. The programs are designed with a minimum age in mind, but comfort level can vary greatly from child to child.