Wondering how in the world to start snorkeling with kids?
Not long ago, we were in your shoes. Our daughter learned to swim during the summer of 2021. We brought a snorkeling mask on our end-of-summer Caribbean family vacation to Bequia, ready to get her started.
Introducing our kids to new things – and especially to the things we love – is a top reason family travel is so important to us. My husband and I are both avid divers; we love the Caribbean as much for what’s under the sea as above it.
So we couldn’t wait to share the underwater magic with our little one. But we barely knew where to start.
We had to figure it out through trial and error.
Fast forward a year to Summer 2022: The same little girl who had never donned a mask has snorkeled on 5 Caribbean islands! At five years-old, she has seen a spotted eagle ray, a reef shark, and a green sea turtle – all while snorkeling. She’s hooked.
The good news for you? You don’t have to learn through trial and error like we did. We’ve figured out how to teach your kids snorkeling — and we have put all our tips and tricks in this guide.
But before we get started . . .
If you’re here to learn about snorkelling with kids in advance of a tropical beach vacation, don’t miss our comprehensive collection of Caribbean travel guides for families.
And if you’re hoping a trip to give your children their first snorkeling experience, but haven’t booked your trip yet, consider one of the following great hotels. Each of these family-friendly destinations has easy access to snorkeling spots right off the beach, no boat needed.
Mango Tree Hotels with Kid-Friendly Snorkeling
The sheltered beach at Secret Harbour Beach Resort in the US Virgin Islands has great conditions for kids to snorkel and swim, and just enough fish to make it interesting for new snorkelers. A great place to practice (and an overall awesome place to stay).
West Bay Beach in Roatan has some of the best off-the-beach snorkeling in the Caribbean because it’s close to a barrier reef. XBalanque Resort is a 10-minute boat taxi ride from the best snorkeling location, but also offers a peaceful vibe to go home and rest your head.
Travel & Leisure recently named the Palms one of the best hotels in the Caribbean. It has large suites for kids and is right on one of the Caribbean’s best beaches. Walk 25 minutes down Grace Bay Beach to snorkel at Coral Gardens Reef, an amazing snorkel for kids and parents.
This is where our daughter got started, on one of our all-time favorite family trips. Princess Margaret Beach in Bequia is incredibly calm, shallow, and sandy and a great place to start to learn. You can learn all about Bequia with kids in our complete guide.
Ok, let’s dive in. (Pun intended.) These are our Mango-Tree-Tested tips for teaching kids to snorkel.
Talk Up Snorkeling To Your Kids
This general approach will sound familiar to most of you parents: To get your baby sharks ready for a new activity, it helps to talk it up!
For ocean activities like snorkeling, there are a lot of at-home ways to get your kids excited ahead of time. Take a pre-trip visit to an aquarium to see the tropical fish you might see in real life. Have a family movie-night viewing of the Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo.
Talk to your kids about what they might see underwater. If they get excited, they’ll want to succeed!
One quick note about the best age to snorkel: There’s no snorkeling age limit! It’s all about your child’s comfort level with swimming, and ability (and willingness) to keep on a snorkel mask. Our daughter started at age 4.5, and you can absolutely take a 5-year-old snorkeling.
Get The Right Kids Snorkeling Gear
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Putting on a snorkel mask can be hard and uncomfortable even for adults. So you can’t expect to get your kids to keep on snorkel gear that’s uncomfortable.
For our kids’ first time snorkeling, we had more luck with one of these full-face masks. (The shark teeth were extra-exciting).
She felt more at ease in it because it covered her full face. It was more forgiving in terms of fit. And the integrated snorkel was easier for her to keep above the waves.
The mask didn’t hold up super well, unfortunately. It broke after one week of intensive use, but maybe we got a faulty one. As it turns out, though, one week was all we needed. By the end of that week, our daughter was ready to transition to a kids snorkel mask without much trouble.
One thing to keep in mind: I don’t typically pack my own snorkel mask when I travel, happy to use what the hotel has to offer. But not all hotels will have a kids’ snorkel handy, so I recommend shopping for a children’s snorkel set ahead of time and packing your own.
Other gear to consider includes a snorkel vest, which is a life jacket that’s a little less bulky and allows for more freedom of movement.
Finally, snorkel fins. We skipped those on our first few beach snorkels, and she’s just now getting used to them. Don’t worry about the fins until your child is comfortable with the mask and overall snorkeling positions.
Start with the pool
Crawl, walk, run. Or, in the case of snorkeling with kids: pool, beach, boat.
When adults learn to scuba dive, they often start in a pool. Why should it be any different teaching your kids to snorkel? Kids need to get comfortable using a mask and breathing through a snorkel without the distractions of the ocean before they can be expected to keep it together in open water.
We started our daughter out with her mask in a hotel pool looking for quarters. She was excited just to be able to see underwater.
Graduate to snorkeling at a shallow, calm, and sandy beach
Once your child is comfortable snorkeling in a pool, try a shallow, sandy beach – even if it means very few fish and no reef.
Why is a shallow beach so important to start? If your child gets a leaky mask or a mouthful of water from a wave, he or she can stand up and reset.
I’ll admit, we learned this lesson through several missteps. First, we tried boat snorkeling a little too early (with a lifejacket of course). When our daughter would panic, she would grab onto us, which was stressful.
We also tried snorkeling on a shallow beach area with some interesting ground cover (rocks and seaweed on the ocean floor). But my daughter would try to stand up, lose her footing, and, once again, start to panic – the last thing you want.
Starting with a shallow, sandy beach where your child has control over when to swim and where to stand can really boost confidence.
Get Them Something To Float On
Whether you’re in shallow water, or out on a boat, give your little snorkeler something to help them float on their stomach as they get comfortable (in addition to a life jacket if you’re on a boat).
On her first snorkeling adventure on a boat, our daughter got to lay across a boat seat cushion, letting her see the reef below without having to worry about controlling her body. On her second and third boat rides, she used a pool noodle.
In calm conditions, we expect she’ll be ready to snorkel with just a light snorkel vest on our next trip.
Practice These Snorkeling Skills Before Advancing
The key skills to practice on your first snorkeling in the ocean are:
– Floating horizontally on their stomach with their face in the water. It helps to keep a hand on your child’s belly at first to guide them. We still often snorkel next to our daughter, with one hand under her belly to keep her confident.
– Keeping their head down so their snorkel stays up
– Emptying the snorkel when water gets in, either by dumping it out or with a big exhale
– Clearing their mask by lifting up just the bottom, and not flinging the mask off their face
– Staying calm when water gets in their mask or snorkel
– Staying calm when they see super exciting things under water! This one’s especially counter-intuitive for them. Be prepare for your kids to pop their head up out of the water, and disrupt the snorkeling flow, the first time they see something awesome. Of course, that’s ok. It is awesome! But over time, kids can learn to silently point to share the enthusiasm under water, rather than surfacing immediately.
Pick A Destination With Amazing Marine Life!
Once your child has practiced on a calm, sandy beach, they will be ready for more interesting terrain. Now’s the time to show them something amazing so they want to keep it up!
Seeing a spotted eagle ray on our daughter’s first snorkeling trip off a boat (even though it had its ups and downs) is something we will never forget. A year later, we still talk about it constantly.
That said, we will prefer and recommend off-the-beach snorkeling with little ones over boat snorkeling trips.
Our daughter really started to thrive snorkeling in Turks & Caicos at the Coral Reef Garden at Bight Beach, where there were riots of colorful fish in every direction she could look – all in clear, shallow water that made her feel comfortable. She took off snorkeling without even waiting for my guiding hand.
Mastered Snorkeling with Kids? Next Up: Diving!
It won’t surprise you to hear that we’re counting down the days until we can teach our daughter to scuba dive. We still have a few years to wait though. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) requires a child to be 10 years old before they are eligible for junior scuba certification.
Scuba diving safely requires care and attention. You need to be confident your child is old enough, and mature enough, to take the training seriously and to respond calmly while underwater. But once the time comes, there are several great diving training programs for kids throughout the Caribbean (such as Buddy Dive Resort in Bonaire)!
Maybe we’ll see you there in a few years! For now, we hope we’ve given you the tools you need to successfully start snorkeling with kids on your next island adventure.
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