Snorkeling can be a really fun activity for you and your entire family to do on your next family vacation. Even young kids can pick up on snorkeling surprisingly fast! It’s such a fun and relaxing vacation activity- a favorite for my family.
And because so many kids love sea creatures, it is SUCH an exciting hobby for them. Plus, it’s so great to find something everyone in the family can enjoy doing together.
But before you head out on your first big snorkeling trip with your kiddos, you’ll want to make sure you and your kids are set up for success. That means you’ll want to do a little bit of preparation ahead of time.
Vacation time goes QUICKLY, so doing the prep work at home really helps you make the most of your precious vacation time. Luckily, preparing for snorkeling can actually be pretty fun!
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1. Get Full-face Snorkel
Full-face snorkels are a game-changer for little kids. No weird mouthpieces, no managing multiple pieces, just an simple fit, and one solid piece. You just slip the thing on and breathe.
However, it might take a little bit of time to get a snorkel that fits your kid’s small face properly. Manufacturers often include a sizing chart. Measuring a kid’s face can be tricky and not all faces are shaped the same. So make sure you order your snorkel early, and leave plenty of time to try it on, and send it back for a different one if the fit isn’t great.
We attempted to measure our kids’ faces but wound up with a snorkel that didn’t fit well. Luckily, we left ourselves plenty of time to send it back for a different one. We ended up going with this snorkel and it fit both kids perfectly. It has survived quite a bit of abuse by our kids without any noticeable damage, and the kids have really enjoyed wearing it. Overall we love this snorkel!
2. Practice a TON
Once you get your kid’s snorkel and have a great fit on it, it’s time to start practicing. And you don’t need access to great snorkeling beaches, or even a swimming pool to practice. Just stick the snorkel on in the bathtub so your child can get used to the feeling of breathing underwater.
Get them to practice as often as you can before their first real snorkeling experience so they feel really comfortable with the snorkel. Try making a bubble bath, then having them use their snorkel to find toys you’ve dropped on the bottom. Or count how many fingers you are holding up underwater.
For our kids, playing with the snorkel was super fun, so it was not difficult to get them to practice nonstop. We probably practiced every day for a month before our first snorkel trip in the ocean.
If you CAN practice in a swimming pool, that would be even better. We weren’t able to go to the pool even once while my boys were learning, and it was not a problem at all.
3. Start them young!
Even little kids can be great at snorkeling! With the proper gear, good conditions, and lots of practice, kids as young as 3 can be totally successful snorkeling. But the best way to find out for sure if your kid can do it is just to TRY, at least in the bathtub. If they can’t get used to the feeling of breathing underwater, then you’ll know they aren’t quite there yet. But with a bit of practice and a patient parent, there is a good chance they’ll get the hang of it and will love it!
4. Know the conditions
It’s always important to be prepared, and be safe while snorkeling. But if you are going to be taking younger kids out there, it’s EXTRA important. Before you head out to the water, make sure you are SURE about where it’s safe for you to snorkel. Ask your hotel conceirge for help, a tour guide, the snorkel shop, a lifeguard, or even ask other snorkelers (but expect that many of them may not be aware of all the hazards in the area). Make sure you ask if there are any areas you should avoid, or anything to look out for.
If you are visiting Maui, The Snorkel Store has a great daily snorkel report- sign up here.
While you are out there, don’t forget to take a break and look up from the water every once in a while. Storms can blow in, conditions can change- or you may have ended up farther out in the water than you realized. If you are in the snorkel-zone checking out something amazing underwater with your kids, it’s easy to forget.
5. Get them excited!
Show your kids snorkeling video footage. Talk to them about why you love snorkeling or the fish and sea life you hope to see while snorkeling. Make sure you address any fears they have.
My kids were pretty terrified that sharks would eat them, so we had a lot of discussions about dangerous vs not dangerous sharks, and where sharks are found vs where we’d be swimming. Eventually, they overcame their fears and felt excited about getting in the water.
For my kid’s first snorkeling experience, we went to Maui. And we were all very excited about the opportunity to see sea turtles. Or maybe I was so excited about the opportunity to see sea turtles. But excitement is infectious, and quickly my kids were into it too.
6. Bring your gear
You’ve made it to your destination. You are finally there- on a beach, ready to head out to the water and go snorkeling. There are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you have a super successful snorkeling trip with your younger kids.
It’s worth the suitcase space to bring the gear your kids practiced with. It really is. Especially for the littlest kids. Kid’s faces are small, and snorkel shops might not have a snorkel that fits them well. They may not even have the full-face type of snorkel that we LOVE.
And even if they do, it’ll take time out of your busy vacation schedule to get your short-attention-span little guy to focus on how this rental snorkel fits and feels (spoiler alert- they’ll say it feels great even if it doesn’t. The snorkel will immediately fill up with water, and you’ll either have to skip snorkeling for the day, or you’ll have to turn around and go back to the snorkel shop, taking even MORE of your day).
Plus, the snorkel they’ve practiced on is the one they’ll feel most comfortable and confident in. You won’t regret bringing it.
If you are tight on luggage space, you’d be much better off renting your (adult-sized) snorkel and squeezing the kid’s snorkel in.
Trust us on this one.
7. Skip the fins?
Fins are great. They allow you to swim quickly and efficiently, and give you a ton of control. However, for little kids, they are just one more new thing to get used to. And you absolutely don’t need them, especially for younger kids. You probably won’t be heading WAY out there with your little kid, so being able to swim longer distances isn’t a huge concern. And trying to get a good fit on chubby toddler feet, or just tiny kid-sized feet can be tricky and can end up being an all-day battle.
Of course, if you and your child want to give it a go and learn how to swim with fins, that’s totally great too! We love these fins for kids who are learning how to swim with fins. They are lightweight and a bit shorter, so they are easy to get used to and super comfortable for kids to wear!
8. Life Jacket
For younger kids or kids who aren’t rock-solid swimmers, put them in a life jacket. There is no way you, the parent, will have any fun snorkeling if you are constantly worrying about if your child is safe. Snorkeling vests might be more well suited for snorkeling, and be more comfortable for longer snorkeling trips, but they aren’t certified as PFDs. For younger kids going out snorkeling, the comfort factor is going to be less important because they aren’t going out for hours and hours. In fact, they might just go out for 15 minutes and be thrilled with it, satisfied, and done.
And the safety factor is SUPER huge for little kids. They might not be the strongest swimmers, and while a life jacket can’t protect them from everything, it’s a really good start. For me, as a not-so-relaxed mom, having a life jacket on while out in the ocean allows me to relax and enjoy myself at least a LITTLE bit.
Looking for a good life jacket? For little kids, we love Puddle Jumpers. They are inexpensive and coast guard approved. Plus, they hold kids in the right position for learning how to swim. However, they are only good for kids up to 50 lbs. And they were getting PRETTY snug on my kids before we even hit 50 lbs.
So for your bigger kid, you’ll need a larger life jacket. This is the one we have- nothing fancy, but does it’s job. And my kids are comfortable wearing it.
9. Find a Great Place to Start
Kids have short attention spans. So if you want your child to enjoy snorkeling the FIRST time, and get hooked right away, make sure their first time is really great from the start. Take them to a really great snorkeling spot, if you can. And perhaps even scope it out ahead of time.
Then, the first time your child puts their face in the water, they’ll see a whole underwater world of brightly colored fish. And you, my friend, will have a snorkel-loving kiddo.
And you don’t have to find a big beautiful sea turtle, or the rarest, most special fish ever. Just fish. Any fish will do. The more the better. The shallow reefs often have TONS of tiny, colorful fish. And those fish are going to be JUST your child’s speed. There is nothing scary or intimidating. Just beautiful, and fun little fish.
We took our kids snorkeling at Black Rock on Ka’anapali Beach, Maui for their first snorkeling trip. It was really amazing, and such a fun spot for them to learn. They could see fish instantly- in just a couple of feet of water. The fish were colorful and so fun to watch. My nervous kids didn’t love going out into the deeper water where the fish were a bit bigger and the ocean depth felt a little overwhelming. But right near the shore, they had a blast!
10. Keep it Simple
Snorkeling is pretty easy to learn. And that is what makes it a great hobby for kids, families, and nearly everyone.
But, you can definitely get carried away with fancy gear, epic snorkeling guided trips, longer outings, etc. But when it comes to snorkeling with kids, just keep it simple. Go to a great, but ACCESSIBLE spot. Don’t expect your kids, especially little kids, to be out snorkeling all day. Just keep expectations low, trips short, and make sure you let them lead the way. If you push your child TOO hard, they might reject snorkeling all together.
11. Get a Fish Identification Chart
One fun way to keep your child engaged and interested in snorkeling is to get a fish identification chart for the area where you’ll be snorkeling. I like this laminated one because you can take it to the ocean without fear of it getting wet or torn.
You can also just find one like this on your phone, but it’s a bit tougher to see in the bright sunlight at the beach. Trying to pronounce Humuhumunukunukuapua`a is fun for EVERYONE! And it’s even more fun to try to spot one in the ocean.
If you have a GoPro, or any waterproof video camera, definitely use it! Your kids will love taking footage of their snorkel adventures or watching the video footage that you took while out with them. It’s super fun for them to be able to relive the experience and talk through what they saw, what they thought, etc. And it’ll keep them interested in excited about snorkeling for the NEXT trip!
Check out our kids first snorkeling trip!