Words By Margo Peyton

Every child moves at his/her own pace. While these tips can help you teach children to dive, individuality is much more important than when teaching adults diving. Photo courtesy: Kids Sea CampI’m sure you had a teacher you can easily think of, who you loved and who inspired you. And maybe you can think of one who did not—and who may have been the cause of why you hated math or history. With your own kids learning how to dive, you can see how important it is to be that teacher who inspires and causes a child to succeed. The kids you turn out today are the divers of tomorrow, so if you can make a better, safer diver, then do.

Here are my top ten tips to help you teach your kids to dive:

  1. Kids have very short attention spans. They learn better visually and by doing things repetitively.
  2. They don’t learn like adults from books and studying. They want you to tell them. They want you to show them. Slow down everything you do. Ask random questions when you finish teaching something. 
  3. Kids don’t want to be the first to run out of air and they don’t want to end their dive. Never ask a child underwater what is the amount of air left in their tank by showing an OK sign or showing fingers. Take the gauge in your hand and look at it, as well as maximum depth. Check on them frequently and ask them how much air they have. I turn around every three minutes to look at my kids and give them all an OK sign, and every five minutes I check gauges. You may think that is ultra-conservative, but kids can go through air twice as fast as adults. They are excited and nervous. 
  4. Take the fear out. Tell kids how much fun it is to dive, tell them all the things they can see and do. Psych them up about good buoyancy and show them some cool ways to be neutral. It really helps to make things fun and interesting.
  5.  Once most kids are certified, its all about skill to them. The deeper the cooler. They are constantly talking about depth. So I turn this around and try to make it all about good air consumption and buoyancy.  
  6. Give very detailed briefings. During your briefing tell them a funny dive story from when you started diving, to put them at ease. Go over signals and how to inflate & deflate the BC. Even though kids are certified, they often are afraid to openly ask questions or state they don’t know something. They don’t want you to think they are dumb or newbies, so they don’t ask. Make this your job. Remind them how to set up gear and then watch them. Remind them of how to be a good buddy & stay close to their buddy. 
  7. If a child tells you their tummy hurts and they can’t dive, or their ear hurts and they need to go up, it may be the case―but watch that it is not repetitive and frequent. Kids know that if they tell you their ear hurts, you will not make them dive. Saying they feel unwell might be a sign that the child is feeling insecure and scared, or not as good as the other kids. If it happens once, give the child a break. If it’s repetitive and you (or the parents, if that’s not you) do not think there is anything wrong with the child, it might be fear. I will work one-on-one with a child, and talk to them to find out what the block is. Many times, it’s just one skill—like mask removal—that has them stressed. Sometimes, they are just not ready. They are not enjoying diving and someone like a parent is pushing and they don’t want to disappoint them. Make whatever it is OK. Don’t push a child, because if they have a bad experience it may end up with them not wanting to dive, ever.
  8. Gear really needs to be perfectly fitted. This is very important. Take the time to make sure fins fit and are not causing blisters, masks don’t leak, and the BC is not chaffing a child’s arms. Kids grow. Fins can last a year or two if you get the adjustable kind. Same with masks. Soft silicone is much better for little faces. A wetsuit and a minimum of a rash guard are a must. Kids get cold. You wouldn’t send a child out in to the snow without a coat! If you’re using rental gear, make sure the dive shop has the extra small sizes that many kids need. Don’t settle with a size too big. This causes much more stress on a child than an adult and can ruin the entire experience, losing a future diver. Tank choice is also important: I hate seeing a 10 or 11 year-old—or a small 12 year-old—with an 80 or 72 on their back that they can barely lift. Don’t make a kid walk with a heavy tank on his or her back. Carry a 50 or 63 for kids.
  9. Be conservative with ratios and assume nothing. If you can take the number of kids you’re planning to take diving from one end of a mall to the other and not lose one, then you’re good. Diving with kids is like diving in a bait ball. If you haven’t done that, try it! Keep kids close together and in buddy teams of two, not three and not four—always two. A child can only focus on one thing at a time, so that is one buddy to keep track of. If I had a dime for every time an instructor said to me, “I’m not a babysitter, they are certified divers,” I would be rich. You are a babysitter, a parent, a dive buddy, an instructor, and a pro!  You are everything and anything when you are underwater with a child. You are aware, patient, and on-guard. You are fun. You are safe. And you assume nothing. If you need to hold a hand, you hold a hand; if you need to go up early, you go up early. You check air, you check gauges, and you always follow up a question with confirming the answer visually. I have seen kids with computers that they have no idea how to use. They just jump in the water and follow you and wait for you to tell them when to come up and go down. Confirm that they know how to read their gauges or computer, again check their air, check their gear, and check their eyes to see if they are doing OK.
  10. Follow up after the dive: What did you see? How was your dive? Were you cold? How did your weight feel? Compliment what was great and give them a tip or two on what they can do to improve. Log the dives with them. They will not do this when they get home. It will be lost forever if you don’t do dive logs on the same day with them. Tell them how important logging their dives is and why it’s important. Tell or show them how many logged dives you have.
  11. When teaching kids, you have to be firm, but let them know you care, let them know they matter. Share your stories, your firsts, and let them know with diving you get better with time and practice. Lots of high fives!  Don’t rush them, let them go at their own pace. If one child is slowing down the others because he or she needs a bit more time, get them some private instruction. 

Bonus (and probably most important!): Kids watch you. You are their ambassador to the sea. You will determine in most cases whether a child becomes a diver or continues to dive. You are just like one of the teachers you had in school that molded and shaped your life. 

Margo  Peyton is the founder of Kids Sea Camp and Family Dive Adventures, recipient of the DEMA Reaching Out Award, Woman Divers Hall of Famer, and the PADI Award of Excellence in training and education, with over 6,000 certified kids and zero dive accidents! For more: www.familydivers.com

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