Sharing my strength, experience, and hope with you. Margo Peyton
1. Kids have very short attention spans, they learn better visually and by doing repetitively.
Its one thing to tell a child his max depth is 40 feet for example, but go beyond that with kids. Tell them why; and don’t make it about their ability or knowledge, make it physical! Tell them what can go wrong and what can happen. Give them an example. Don’t scare them but inform them enough to make a difference. There is a fine line here. Kids are competitive and want to outdo their parents and each other at anything they can, so explain the mandates are about safety, not skill.
Example: “Jennifer, your max depth is not 40 feet because your just learning or not a good diver, its 40 feet, because based on all the research we have with nitrogen effects on bone growth at your age, internal organ development and tissue saturation limits, that it has been determined to be the safest depth for your physical composition at this age.” ( I even explain to 10 and 11 year olds, that it’s like when they go to a doctor and get a certain dosage of medicine based on their age, weight etc. The amount of medicine has to be adhered to, because more than that can be dangerous.) I tell them nitrogen is similar, too much can be dangerous.) This takes the skill out of it and puts into perspective for both kids and adults the real risk factor of not following standards.
2. Gauges and depth. Once most kids are certified, it’s all about skill to them. The deeper they go the cooler they think it is. They are constantly talking about depth.
So I turn this around and try to make it all about good air consumption and buoyancy. First of all when diving with kids, for trainers or parents, I never ask a child under water what is the amount of air left in their tank by showing me an OK sign or showing me fingers. I take the gauge in my hand and I look at it as well as Maximum depth. Kids don’t want to be the first to run out of air and they don’t want to end the dive for everyone else.
As a dive guide, Instructor, Dive Master or parent, when diving with kids, you have to take the time frame in which you would normally turn around and check in with your buddy or group, and ask them how much air they have triple it! On a 45 minute dive, I turn around every 3-5 min to look at kids and give them an ok sign as well as check gauges. You may think that is ultra conservative, but from someone who has been diving with kids for 11 years, trust when I tell you, they go through air twice as fast as adults. Kids are excited, nervous and when in groups, the boys are looking at the girls and the girls are looking at the boys and they are animated and hearts are racing. They can blow through a tank in 10 min.
3. Give very detailed briefings, and also make sure when you’re diving with kids, that you ask them, when the last time they dove was, also ask how they are feeling. Notice a cough or a runny nose. Parents more than likely filled out the forms and may not even have asked how their child felt that morning. This is important to do. Parents need to provide all information on forms, even the occasional medication taken for allergies for example, can make a difference on a dive. Kids can be nervous or stressed because they don’t know anyone. Instructors, Dive Masters, during your briefing tell them a funny dive story from when you started diving, put them all at ease. Go over how to inflate and deflate the BC and signals. Even thought kids are certified, they are afraid to openly ask questions or state they don’t know something. They don’t want you to think they are dum or new etc. 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. Kids Get Side tracked all the time. If you have ever sat in the passenger seat of a new teen driver, than you know how many times they have taken their eyes off the road. Underwater is 10 times worse. They see cool fish and tons of colors etc. they forget to look for their team, their buddy, and their gauges.
4. Take the fear out of the dive. 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.
Kids are not adults, they don’t learn like adults, they don’t all want to read books and study, they want you to tell them what they need to know for this moment only, they want you to show them what they need to do. Slow everything you do down. Ask questions to everyone randomly when you just finish teaching something. This is a fantastic thing to do.
For example, you just went over a dive briefing; Daniel what is our max dept today? Lisa, name 3 things I said we could see on this dive, James what is the most important rule in diving? If they think there is any chance you’re going to call on them, then they will pay attention. the worse thing to happen for them in front of their piers is for you to ask them a question and they have to say “I don’t know”.
5. Excuses: If a child is telling you their tummy hurt and they can’t dive, or their ear hurts and then need to go up. This may be the case so always take care, but watch that it is not repetitive and constant before or during each dive. Kids are very quick learners and they know that if they tell you their ear hurts or they are stuffed up or they have a tummy ache, that you will not make them dive or will end the dive. No discussion, no argument etc. and that is the correct thing to do. However, this could also be a sign that the child is just feeling insecure and scared and or not as good as the other kids. If it happens twice, conform, give the child a break, and then make sure to mention it to his or her mom that same day. If the parent thinks it’s strange and does not think there is anything wrong with the child, it just might be fear. I will work one on one with a child, talk to them to find out what the block is. Mom and dad can help in this area too. Find out what the problem is. 50% of the time, it can be overcome; it could be one skill like mask removal, or fear of sharks or even fish that has them stressed etc. Sometimes, kids are just not ready yet. It could be pressure they feel, a parent is proud and the child does not want to disappoint their family. Make whatever it is ok, address it and do your best to find out what it’s about. Assure parents, they don’t want to push a child, because if they have a bad experience it may end up in their child not wanting to dive. Kids have all the time in the world and can take their time with this sport.
6. Gear: This is very important. Gear really needs to be perfectly fitted. Take the time to make sure fins fit and are not causing blisters, masks don’t leak and the BC is not chaffing a Childs arms. These things can go un noticed and often do, until 3 days later when the child can’t go on because there is a sore. Many parents don’t want to spend money on gear for their kids, because they are growing. However they would not buy their kid a pair of shoes that did not fit and gave their kid blisters. Talk to parents and make this important. Fins can last a year or two if they get the adjustable kind. A mask too, soft silicone is much better for little faces. A wet suit and a minimum of a rash guard are a must, Kids get cold. A parent would not send their child out in to the snow without a coat. Again emphasize the importance of gear it’s also less stressful for a child when they have gear that is familiar and they are comfortable in it. If you’re using rental gear, make sure the dive shop has the xxs and xs that many kids need. Don’t just settle with a size too big. This causes much more stress on a child than an adult and can ruin the entire experience, therefore losing a future diver.
7. Tanks: this too is very important. I hate seeing a 10 and 11 year old and even some small 12 year olds with an 80 or 72 on their back that they can barely lift. Schools across America have on-line books now because they have determined how unhealthy it is for kids lugging around these 20lb book bags all day. Don’t make a kid walk with a heavy tank on his or her back, carry size 50 or 63′s for kids.
8. Be ultra conservative with ratios. THIS IS NOT ABOUT MONEY, IT’S ABOUT LIVES! If you can take the number of kids you’re going diving with 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 have not done that, try it. My suggestion is 1 instructor with no more than 5 certified kids. In a course 1 instructor with 2 kids. When parents diving with their kids, if you’re not an avid diver, or its your first dive of the year, I would suggest you have a dive master guide you and your family.
Keep kids close together and in buddy teams of 2 not 3 and not 4, always 2. A child can only focus on one thing at a time, so that is one buddy to keep tract of. I can tell you a million things that go wrong when you don’t use buddy teams and when you use more than 2.
9. Your role with kids: If I had a dime for every time an instructor said to me, ” I’m not a baby sitter, they are certified divers,” I would be rich. Instructors, you are a baby sitter, a parent, a dive buddy, an instructor and a pro! You are everything and anything when you’re 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 their parents bought them diving, and they have no idea how to use them, or what the numbers on them mean etc. 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 and see if they are doing ok.
10 After the dive: What did you see? How was your dive? Were you cold? How did your weight feel? We can take some off, add one on etc. Compliment what was great and tell 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 are and why it’s important. Tell them how many logged dives you have.
Most important! They watch you and 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 High school that molded and shaped your life.
I’m sure you have a teacher you can easily think of that you loved that inspired you and maybe one that did not and may have been the cause of why you did not like math or history etc. Be that teacher that inspired and caused a child to succeed. Be that teacher that guide that will never be forgotten. You affect every child and you affect the future of diving. The kids you turn out today are the divers of tomorrow, so if you can make a better diver, safer diver, then do.
One last thing: When teaching kids, 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. It’s important to let them know we all did not start out as good as you are today. Lots of high fives! Don’t rush them, let them go at their own pace, and if one child is slowing down the class, because he or she needs a bit more time, just tell mom or dad they will need some private instruction.
Keep in touch, give them places to go dive, give them information on another course and reminders, when they turn 12, they can now do advance, or when they are 15, they can now do deep etc. Stay in touch.
“Kids are our future, believe in them, keep them safe, inspire them and be inspired by them”
[DSE: Margo and her husband Tom run Kids Sea Camps at various destinations in the Caribbean and have been doing so for 11 years. They have successfully taught hundreds to kids to dive and enjoy it. See www.familydivers.com]