In her first blog for Scubaverse, PADI MSDT and Dive School Operator Maryse Dare, shares some of her first-hand knowledge about teaching children to dive.
Incorporating a range of skills and experiences, Scuba Diving is an excellent activity for children. There are, however, different aspects to consider. In this blog we will be exploring some of the challenges to think through when a child starts on their diving journey.
Children develop at different rates. Although the youngest age for a Bubblemaker experience is 8, there are some children who may not be ready to start diving. At our dive school, we start children with a one to one session, and only book for one session, rather than encouraging parents to sign up for a full course. Children will be taken through a Bubblemaker and we can then start to assess how they respond to directions and how comfortable they are underwater. Only then can we start to make an honest evaluation of how long they will need to reach the Seal Team performance criteria.
What do you look for?
The children will range from being anxious to declaring they’re ready to dive the Titanic. Some will be happy to walk away from Mum and Dad, others may be a bit clingy. This is one sign to keep an eye on as there will have to be a separation when they are underwater. In one Bubblemaker a participant would not go underwater unless their Dad was with them. Although he still enjoyed the experience, we knew that he would need a lot more one to one time before he could dive and participate in the Seal Team programme independently.
Hints and Tips
Teaching children is a skill in itself and many Instructor courses will not prepare you for teaching with children specifically, but the skills are transferable. Think about the language that is used: short words, short sentences and key information only. I tend to talk a little bit and then give the bullet point information. For example, I’ll explain the BCD and finish with getting them to inflate as I say “in”, and deflate as I say “out”, using the hand signals at the same time. A nice gentle tone and lots of encouragement is always useful. Where children are excited, it keeps them calm; where children are a little nervous, then it can instill confidence.
Ratios are important. After assessing the children you will have an idea of how much support each diver will need. We have some children who have had to maintain a one to one for several months; we’ve had others who are ready to join the main group halfway through the first session.
Including the parents in their child’s progress is important. We have a range of children and it’s important that each diver is allowed to progress at their own rate. We focus on mastering the skills but as children’s attention span differs, we may progress to another skill once one has been completed a few times, but then return at later dates to ensure mastery. This has the added bonus of refreshing the skills for everyone.
Being honest at the start is also important. The parents who sign their child up for a Seal Team programme need to understand that (as with any course) you’re paying for tuition – not for a certification. We evolved the idea of a monthly club to get round this issue. Whilst parents are advised of average times to complete a course we also advise it can be longer, or indeed shorter. We have had children who have taken twelve sessions to complete the Seal Team before progressing to Master Seal Team; we have had others who have been able to complete their Aquamissions in three sessions and progress.
Integrating a bit of theory into each session is important too, although we’ll discuss this in a later blog. By learning slowly and gently, the children will acquire not only the knowledge required but also the understanding behind the theory. We cover only the basics in the first session but the debrief is just as important to reflect on what has been experienced in the sessions.
Introducing children to diving is a privilege and if done correctly, the children can continue their journey with you to develop their diving for many years ahead. Taking a bit of extra time at the start of their experience with diving, and ensuring it is tailored to the individual, will create great ambassadors for our community; naturally displaying good diving techniques and attitudes, as well as being genuinely committed to protecting the environment in which we dive.