A few years ago I spent a lot of time volunteering at a Primary School, and I love to work with kids. Now, as a PADI Instructor, that has not changed and my favourite part of this job is teaching children to dive. Children are quick to learn, very good at listening, and usually better at following instructions than adults! Starting their diving journey when young can be really beneficial, however as a parent, you may be wondering how you can help prepare your child for learning to Scuba Dive. Whether you yourself are a diver or not, there are a few points here that can help you and your child get the most out of their diving lessons.
When can children start?
All information about standards, training and procedures in this post are based on PADI only as that is who I teach for. Other agencies may differ.
Children can take part in PADI’s Bubblemaker program from 8 years old. This allows them to use full SCUBA gear and experience diving to 2 metres with an instructor. At 10 years old, children may go for the full Open water course, however until they reach 12 years old they are restricted to 12 metres.
Are they ready?
At 10 years old, the difference between children can be huge. During this time they are growing and maturing a lot, but at different rates. Whilst one 10 year old may be ready to dive, another may lack the maturity needed to become a diver. There is a lot of heavy lifting involved, and whilst I as an instructor always help children a lot more, they do need to show that they can set up equipment alone. This also requires a certain amount of dexterity, for adjusting equipment, using the inflator hose etc, a skill that children develop at different rates.
It is up to you as a parent, and the Instructor to assess this. Personally, with children aged 10 and 11, I find that the Scuba Diver course (it is like “half” of the open water course) is enough for them. After all, they are restricted to 12 metres anyway. This means they can achieve Scuba Diver, and then in a few years, upgrade to the full open water and the restriction is lifted to 18 metres.
Find a reputable shop
When it comes to children and Scuba Diving, I really suggest you do some research and make informed choices. The standard of dive centres and individual instructors varies enormously. Ask around to any divers you know, look online, and do as much background digging as you can. It could be worth calling or emailing dive centres and asking about courses for children. Do they have children’s size equipment for rental? Inquire as to how many they will allow in a group with children. I would not like to mix children with adults, I am sure it would make the children nervous, and children and adults certainly learn at a different pace. Go with your gut instinct, if you think the Instructor is not right, then find a different one.
Getting the theory done
A lot of children are really put off doing the courses because of the theory involved. My advice would be start on the theory as early as possible. Break it up into small chunks otherwise children will rapidly lose attention and not retain the information. Try to make it fun, show them some videos on youtube of skill practice or even just general underwater videos to keep them motivated. Seeing videos of divers underwater will also help prepare your child for their first lesson. Make sure your child is actually learning, and you are not just giving them the answer. You may think you are helping, but in the long run you are not, and Instructors can tell very quickly if a child truly understands the theory.
Comfort in the water
I feel it should go without saying, but make sure your child is comfortable in water. they don’t have to be the best swimmer in their class, but they should be able to swim, and not feel any kind of panic. Have them snorkel, snorkel, and snorkel some more. It seems simple and obvious, yet I find so many children (and adults) turn up for their first diving experience having never put their head and face in the open water. If you really don’t have access to open water where it is possible to snorkel, have your child practice in a pool. This way, they will get used to the sensation of water on their face, and the feeling of having something in their mouth at all times. Have them spend as much time in the water before they learn to dive as possible to build up confidence. I can tell you that if someone has huge difficulties with snorkelling, they are going to have bigger difficulties with diving.
Leave it to the professionals
Don’t get in the way of the professionals. Even if you have been diving for years, it doesn’t mean you know how to teach a child to dive. Be prepared to take a step back and let the Instructor do their job. If you want to come in the water with your child for the course, talk this through with the instructor and respect their wishes. Some Instructors really discourage this, as it can cause the child to misbehave or play up. In my personal experience I find children are a lot more likely to listen to and trust me when the parents are not around. I tend to let parents join the Open Water dives but not the confined sessions, but even then I have had parents getting in the way, making frantic and panicked hand signals, or even pulling dump valves of their children! This doesn’t encourage learning at all.
Don’t force your fears onto your children
You may not realise it but if you show stress or fear, your child picks up on it and it affects them. I have seen this problem a few times when parents come into the water with their child. It can be hard seeing your child struggle, for example watching them try to clear a mask repeatedly, getting frustrated. This sometimes leads to the parents trying to intervene, or even plead that certain skills be missed out. Even out of the water, try not to show your child that you are nervous, as this will only project on to them and give them the idea that they should be nervous! Be positive about diving. Show them some of the animals, shipwrecks and sights they may see at dive sites around the world. Of course, children need to be able to comprehend the risks, but the idea is not to scare the life out of them!
Don’t force it
Ask yourself, who’s idea was this anyway? Be sure that your child actually wants to learn to dive, and it is not just dive mad parents trying to push their hobby onto the family. Children are free spirits, and when they don’t like something they are usually pretty vocal and straight to the point (it is one of the reasons I love working with them!). It can be frustrating for parents who have paid and put aside time for a child to do a Scuba course, only for them to metaphorically dig their heels in and refuse. It is better for everyone if the child is genuinely enthusiastic and excited about diving.
Kids are usually quick to learn, and go on to make great divers. They are used to listening and retaining information from school, and things that we adults may find mundane, they usually find much more exciting. Teaching kids is really rewarding, and I love it when they succeed and overcome fears. As a parent, all you can do is try your best to prepare your children for learning to Scuba Dive and hope they enjoy it!